Classical Gas

Going to Cheltenham Jazz Festival had some unexpected benefits – one of them being a cheap CD of Frankie Laine’s Greatest Hits.

The sound of ‘The Kid’s Last Fight’ took me right back to Sunday mornings in the kitchen, mum peeling potatoes at the sink overlooking the garden while joining in with the chorus while through the open back door, Dad could be heard whistling along from the workshop end of the garage.

A chunk of happy carefree childhood, right there, back in the room with me.

Our house was rarely without music. It was almost all popular music Frankie, Doris Day, Jo Stafford, Frank Ifield, Cliff Richard, Elvis, Andy Williams with show tunes thrown in the mix – Mario Lanza singing the Drinking Song from the Student Prince.

It was only my father who had a some of the classics. I caught his affection for the drama of Wagner’s Tannhauser Overture, the galloping excitement of Rossini’s William Tell and the wonderful oceanic swells of Fingal’s Cave by Mendelssohn.

Reading extracts recently from a speech by the artist Grayson Perry made me realise that perhaps, growing up in a working class household, I was lucky to have heard any classical music at all.

Grayson says that he didn’t have any classical music in his working class childhood home and has always felt it wasn’t for the likes of his family. He still feels, he claims, that he is pretending.

How could that be? Is that really the way it was in the early sixties and before? Was there really a divide between the ‘thick’ poor and the ‘cultured’ better off?

I heard less of it as I was growing up purely because Dad wasn’t as interested in music generally as my mother, so his records got played less. There was never any suggestion that it wasn’t “for the likes of us,” but neither was there any attempt to broaden my musical education.

That came via school music lessons – a marvellous music teacher who brought his favourites in and just let us listen – which seemed a tremendous privilege, at the time. Playing the piano and flute helped broaden the classical music experience too and lo, it came to pass that I became aware of the existence of that peculiar thing, Radio 3 and then Classic FM.

The other thing that struck me about Grayson Perry was the way he says when he listens to music, what affects him is not just the melody or the interpretation but the thought of all the hours of practice; he’s in awe of the rigour and dedication.

Curious. For me, music is not so much a listening process as an altering process. The sounds change how I am, conjure images, makes me feel different. I absolutely never even consider the mechanics of the musicians and the backstories of practice. If I’m listening to a Bach fugue, I don’t find myself thinking “God his fingers must have been sore hitting all those keys for hours on end!”

I don’t have that thing of the music of my youth still being my favourite. Memories flood back when I listen but it doesn’t make them better than some of the music I’ve heard since. Similarly, The Planets was the first classical record I bought for myself and it’s still up there in my top ten but it’s been usurped in my affections by other work that moves me far more profoundly.

It made me wonder what other people’s experiences of classical music are?

What age you were when you were first aware of classical music? Do you still have particular pieces that have been favourites from way back when?


About janh1

Part-time hedonist.
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8 Responses to Classical Gas

  1. IsobelandCat says:

    I’ll think about this and come back later. Too nice a day to spend much time at the keyboard!

  2. IsobelandCat says:

    I’m not a great jazz fan. By and large I don’t ‘get’ it.
    But I had a religious upbringing; church or Sunday School each week; a C of E Primary school attached to the local church; a C of E grammar school not attached to any church but with pretensions – our Carol Service was in the cathedral. So Church music; the organ; fugues; has been part and parcel of my life from very early on. Hymns: where do they fit in? How about psalms?
    Your post sent me into a reel.
    Oh yes we did country dancing, English and Scottish too.

  3. janh1 says:

    Hmm. Hadn’t thought about the hymns but Sunday School was more influential when I was very young. All Things Bright and Beautiful led the way and there was a hymn at assembly every single morning both at primary and grammar school.

    For some reason they didn’t grab me as The Planets and Wagner grabbed me. Not the same drama, I suppose. Similarly country dancing melodies seemed a bit tame compared to the full orchestral stuff. 🙂

  4. IsobelandCat says:

    Sunday schools don’t usually have the benefit of the rolling sounds of the organ, fantastic if the organist is a god musician. I reckon that’s what prepared me for Bach and things like Pachabel’s Canon. I still like a good choir, and I always enjoyed the descant parts in All People That on Earth Do Dwell, and O Come All Ye Faithful. Still do.
    I played various recorders at primary school which introduced me to things by Bird and Tallis, but the first piece of classical music I remember knowing was Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, which was something my dad liked.
    Lots more but maybe another post…

  5. janh1 says:

    God musician was probably a typo but a brilliant one, Isobel! As a kid it would have been amazing to have been taken to the Cathedral for an organ recital or a proper choral work but no-one thought of it.

    Yes do post something. I played descant recorder. We all did, didn’t we? Still have it, actually. A plastic Dolmetsch which replaced my original wooden one because the mouthpiece went all yucky. You’ve reminded me I actually like Christmas carols played on recorders doing different parts. There’s a purity about it.

  6. IsobelandCat says:

    Dolmetsch huh? We only had those when we were playing in concerts. V posh. I had an Adler treble and descant. I think my tenor was Schott.

  7. janh1 says:

    😉 can’t be that posh. It’s still plastic! Quality plastic!! I always wanted to play a tenor recorder. such a nice tone.

  8. IsobelandCat says:

    Quality plastic indeed.
    I loved playing the tenor, but now I can’t reach all the notes despite having much bigger hands. And I’d need to relearn all the fingering I think. maybe one day…

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