’So, know this: what lies ahead is not some white girl with a posh name telling you that you ‘should’ listen to classical music every day in order to somehow become a better, smarter or more classy person. I have no interest in making you feel ashamed because you have never heard of some of these composers or their music...’
This is a promising start from musician and Radio Three presenter Clemency Burton-Hill in the introduction to her book Year of Wonder, recommended by one of you in comments recently and for which I am so grateful. I knew in an instant that this was the right book for me, and very quickly treated myself to a copy on the basis that at about 0.05479452p per day this represented exceptionally good value for a year of listening to a piece of classical music chosen for me each day. The book is sensibly square-bound so no crushing or spine-cracking required; it's a detail that matters to book-lovers like thee and me.
This in Clemency Burton-Hill’s introduction appealed to me as well...
‘What I am determined to do, though, is to extend a hand to those who feel that the world of classical music is a party to which they haven’t been invited...’
That felt just a little like me.
Despite the fact that my dad was a Royal Marine's Boy Bugler, drummer and flautist, I don’t come from a musical family or have a classical music background. If I play any instruments it’s because I have taught myself (guitar and flute, the latter poorly). We were a post-war Light Service radio family with the addition of the The New Seekers and Perry Como’s greatest hits when we finally acquired a radiogram. We were certainly exposed to classical music at Primary School, but really only Kathleen Ferrier because the headmistress worshipped her, and Peter and the Wolf because every 1950's schoolchild listened to that on the weekly school's radio programme. I didn’t really discover classical music until I left home, bought a little stereo unit for my student nurse’s room and quietly started to explore for myself with LPs for 99p. I probably began with Rodrigo’s Concerto de Aranjuez and it grew from there. Interestingly my mum and dad likewise started to extend their listening repertoire at the same time... my mum adored ballet music and my dad accumulated anything and everything he fancied. It’s as if they were making up for what their working class wartime childhoods had never provided and which there was never the money or the confidence to provide for me.
Slowly but surely, I’ve worked my way through a great deal, whilst singing in church choirs for many years has also helped, yet I still really don’t know my Bach from my Beethoven if pressed and feel hopelessly inadequate in conversations about opera (which I loath) and the Proms (which I love). If you had any sort of education in classical music, or learned an instrument as a child how fortunate you were coming to it all at a young age. But better late than never etc. I have slowly built up my classical music repertoire over the years, and yet I still feel there is so much I must have missed, and Year of Wonder is most certainly filling in the gaps.
I was reassured that I could jump in and start listening no matter the date so I backdated a few days to September 26th, my birthday and a lovely Schubert song, and have slotted in a daily listen ever since. New composers, new pieces of music, some familiar some completely unknown and alongside a brief written explanation from Clemency Burton-Hill. I even forgave the inclusion of Philip Glass once I read her reasons for choosing it. It is a well-recognised moment each day in our house when Radio 3 ‘goes all Cage or Glass on me’ and I creep back to Classic FM.
I downloaded Spotify, figured out what to do next without having to ask a child, and now have the Year of Wonder playlist at the ready each day and look forward to the moment when I sit down for my listen. I warn Bookhound that I am in the world of the noise-cancelling headphones so won’t hear a thing happening in the world, and to come and get me if there’s a fire, and then I’m away.
So thank you again to the recommender, this would be an excellent one for the C*******s list, or to give as a gift.
Meanwhile I wonder if any of you recognise my experience of classical music..
Or were you raised with it all resonating around the house...
Piano lessons from an early age...
I’d love to know.