Sarah Brightman Prompts Embarrassed Sunday Reflection

After another busy week, our Sunday has ticked all the right boxes. We got up and were ready for Tim’s early morning meetings on time, for once, and I spent the extra hour listening to someone in the ward play the piano in the chapel. Gave me food for thought: it’s been years since this person had any lessons, like me, but unlike me there’s still a wide range of impressive and beautiful music she can play to a good standard, and even more unlike me, she puts aside the time to learn the Grade 7 and 8 pieces every year, to keep her hand(s) in. All those years I spent at the piano, I thought. What do I have to show for it except an Elton John compendium and that truly, truly hideous version of ‘All I Ask of You’ with Sarah Brightman and (oh horror) Cliff Richard simpering toothily on the front? Which – and my shame multiplies as I say it – I can’t even play properly anymore?

Face of my Shame.

Sarah: Face of my Shame.

I remembered preparing for my Grade 8 exam, the autumn I was seventeen, and losing myself for hours at a time as I perfected the subtleties of Chopin preludes, the blood and violence of Schubert and the pleasing tick-tock neatness of Bach’s prelude and fugue. I remembered shutting the door against the boys arguing and playing Debussy until I was somewhere else entirely. And I made three mental resolutions on the spot: 1) Buy a proper, non-simplified collection of new classical piano pieces to learn; 2) Get the piano tuned so I can play it without either of us sounding drunk; 3) Burn the Sarah Brightman song without further ado. And that arrangement of ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’.

Don’t you find that some days follow themes all by themselves? Sacrament meeting was about developing unexpected talents, using that lovely talk by President Uchtdorf about finding fulfilment through creating beautiful things. Beauty then eluded me entirely as I accompanied an easy Sally DeFord song in Relief Society with unforgiveable slushiness. And made, frankly, a hash of the piece in choir practice afterwards. After coming home, eating, sleeping and listening to David Attenborough lament the case of the polar bear (all Sunday afternoon staples) I sat down at the piano and got out my old music. Unsurprisingly I can now only play my Grade 8 pieces using muscle memory – any attempt to read the music brings me to a halt. But I found an old paper copy of Faure’s ‘Romance Without Words’, fondly noting the ‘PRACTICE ME PLEASE’ written across the top in my old piano teacher’s spiky capitals, and spent an hour getting it right. The piano still sounds drunk, but I think I sound a little better. It surprised me how satisfying it was. Then it surprised me that I’d forgotten how satisfying it was.

Result: I’m going to get back on the musical horse and ride it all the way to a concerto. Yee-Haw, etc.

Postscript – I’m reading Alan Bennett’s wonderful Untold Stories at the minute, a collection of diaries and memoirs about his childhood in Leeds, among other things. I’m always surprised by just how old Bennett is – he counts the Second World War among his childhood memories, for heaven’s sake – but he’s wry and touching, and still there are points at which his Yorkshire upbringing and mine intersect. Before going to the cinema, they would stop at a sweet shop as we did, although that was because the cinema didn’t sell food back then, not because, as in our case, the pick ‘n’ mix was a rip-off. But his dad called the sweet-buying ‘getting some spice’. Haven’t heard that for years, but it put me in mind of Granddad stashing Kit-Kats in the pantry, and feigning ignorance when we asked for one.

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