DO you remember learning to read ? I can’t say that I do. If I were to pick my favourite pursuit it would be reading. I don’t remember any books at home, as starting school approached I looked forward to it. This was a time of scarcities in the 1940s, my father was called away to be a soldier and mother was left to take care of two little girls on her own. We lived in three upstairs rooms in a terraced street in a very respectable area. The school was on the opposite side of the road, easily visible from our living room window. A main road of shops was just five minutes away and a library was a tram ride away or on a fine day within walking distance.
I enjoyed school, although a somewhat timid child, I soon settled into the routine, perhaps the fact that I was just a few minutes from home helped. The thing that stand out in my memory is the instruments with which to make music; drums, castanets, tambourines and triangles. A big chart was pinned up on the blackboard covered in blue, red, yellow and green notes. My notes were in blue, my instrument was the triangle. My attention was focused on the musical notes and the teacher. I concentrated very hard on striking my triangle at the right time. This was the very first time I realised that I could produce music, I was captivated. Sadly as a musician I reached my peak in those very early days, at the time it was wonderful.
Strangely enough I remember almost nothing about learning to read, happily I now read every day and I can’t imagine how narrow life would be without it. I read newspapers, the Radio Times, instructions on packets, lists of programmes on TV, I order on line, check my bank account, my emails and last but not least put my thoughts into words on my word-press account. I even read some of the rubbish that comes through the letter-box. Every day I am grateful to those teachers who somehow explained the mysteries of letters and words and gave me the key to making sense of the world in which I live and lots of fun and pleasure along the way.
Searching through the debris and detritus of the television schedules for the second week in January I came across a jewel sparkling in the rubbish. On BBC4, “Sound of Musicals with Neil Brand” a complete compendium of delights with the songs of Jerome Kern, Ira and George Gershwin, Oscar Hammerstein’s Showboat and Alan Jay Learner and Frederick Loewe’s My Fair Lady. This is my kind of music.
The celebrated New Yorker critic, Adam Gopnik puts it like this;
“— the almost incredible wealth and beauty of American popular music-from the blues, and Tin Pan Alley to jazz, R and B., country,rock and roll, and on to hip, hop and of its strange snaking unity. The great critic Kenneth Tynan once wrote that sometime in the nineteen thirties, the ‘serious’ music tradition finally withered, curled up and died”, and what took its place was American song.”
Brand explains how musical theatre changed in the 1920s from review style shows with music provided at intervals to a story told in music where the songs were an integral part of the drama. The first of these was Jerome Kern’s ‘Showboat’, which included the song,”Ol Man River” and “Can’t Help Lovin Dat Man of Mine “.
I absolutely enjoyed this programme.