Musical Reflections 1941…

In March 1941, while London was in the throws of “The Blitz”, my grandmother was performing in Newcastle, a regional city North of Sydney. She was a concert pianist and after studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London, she returned to Australia in 1940 to tour with famed conductor, Sir Thomas Beecham…and no doubt to escape the bombs!

Fast forwarding to 2017, and I’m meticulously going through old newspapers online, transcribing text and pasting articles about her into word documents by year. It’s taken me years to come up with this approach for compiling all these bits and pieces, especially as filing isn’t exactly my forte.

An interesting aspect of my grandmother’s career, at least from the perspective of a storyteller, is that she lived through an extremely turbulent, yet fascinating, period of history. That included: the Great Depression, WWII, “women’s lib”  and also the Cold War when she actually performed behind the “Iron Curtain” in East Germany and Soviet Russia (the latter being quite an “interesting” thing for Grannie to do and she even brought back some Russian coins which was not allowed!!)

So, when I stumbled across this little discussion in the Newcastle paper about the conflict between classical music and Jazz, I thought of a few bloggers who’d find this interesting and I’ll be popping round to “your place” and dropping off a link. You never know when little historical snippets like this could come in handy:

So, here goes:

“WORDS CONTINUE, like pebbles, to be thrown into the stream of controversy that races between followers of jazz and the classics. One writer, who attempts an impartial summing up of the question suggests: “The highbrow’s error is to suppose himself a different creature from the low brow. He loathes himself if he is betrayed into humming a tune that all the world is singing or into tapping his feet in time with the band. And failing to recognise or contemptuously rejecting these instincts in himself he has nothing but scorn for their manifestation in other people. To him the lowbrow is the person who likes ‘that kind of music.’ How much better if we realised that there are occasions when we all like ‘that kind of music” when our superior faculties are enjoying a rest. “This problem must be giving the B.B.C. a headache in compiling its feature programme. ‘Music while you work,’ since obviously there must be some who would prefer to make a bullet or put an engine together to the accompaniment of a Beethoven sonata than to ‘Roll Out the Barrel.’ “Germany, if reports are true, is producing special music to aid the war effort. Soldiers now march to tunes which automatically control their breathing to enable them to go longer distances without becoming exhausted.”

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954) , Friday 21 March 1941, page 18

This tension between classical and contemporary music, rings bells for me back at school, even in the 1980’s.

As if being a teenager wasn’t confusing enough, while the rest of the teenage universe was into  pop/rock/punk etc, my best friend was into classical and drew me under her spell. In retrospect, she was one of “those kids”. Their family only watched the ABC and she never ate junk food. Indeed, she didn’t even know what a Mars Bar was. That should have been a warning in itself, but your best friend is your best friend. Sink or swim, you do it together…even if you do die a social death.

So, if I could speak to my 13 year old self, I’d tell her that she should stand on her own two feet. That before you publicly declare you love classical music, remember you played Grease at your slumber party, which was anything but. Anyone who is your true friend, can accept a difference of opinion and give you the space and freedom to be yourself. You don’t have to be clones. Also, if you decide to go against the flow, make sure it’s for something you strongly believe in and that you’re prepared to cop the fallout. Otherwise, it’s just not worth it.

These are life lessons I’m now trying to pass onto my kids. Navigating your way through high school is a veritable minefield and hopefully they can learn from my mistakes and make different ones of their own.

Meanwhile, getting back to the tension between different styles of music, I’m sensing that this has eased up over the years and we enjoy much more of a smorgasbord of styles these days. That we can be wonderfully eclectic. Is that your take as well? I’d love to read your reflections.

xx Rowena


13 thoughts on “Musical Reflections 1941…

  1. The Showers of Blessing

    How excited that you have found such treasure. When I was in Hong Kong while it was still British colony, they sent Examiners from Royal School of Music to conduct different type of music. I took Theory V, and Voice VIII. Interestingly, my music theory teacher was (still is) my elementary school friend. She is living in London now. You post reminds me of what I had done in Hong Kong.

  2. Barbara In Caneyhead

    Any music that sounds good and moves me is what I enjoy. I admit, I am verbally wired. Therefore, my 1st preference is always things with lyrics. Given the right mood or situation, and I find myself content with just music, with no one forcing my thoughts in any one direction with lyrics.
    Barbara from Life & Faith in Caneyhead

  3. ceayr

    Ah yes, the old argument, Presley v Pavarotti, violins v guitars.
    And utterly facile.
    We don’t say ‘I like Picasso, I don’t like Da Vinci’, and yet, for example, Mona Lisa and Guernica are light years apart in style and substance.
    As John Lennon said, It’s all rock n roll, man.
    Maybe not exactly, but we get the point!
    Fascinating post here, Rowena, loved it.

  4. trentpmcd

    Very interesting. One thing of note, it was right about 1941 that “real jazz” made its divorce from popular music. Jazz became difficult and complex, sometimes just as thorny as 20th century classical. There are people who can understand Schoenberg but not get Coltrane…

  5. Joanna Lynn

    My kids always laugh at the music on my phone. Because you can get an instrumental, Christian, Bon Jovi and Lecrae (a Christian rapper) all in a row. Enjoy the music. Being a snob about anything takes away the joy in life.

  6. Rowena Post author

    I’m not really sure to be honest with you as we didn’t keep in touch. I don’t think I could understand her job at the last school reunion but I think she was an art expert in Italy. We have another reunion coming up so I’ll have to conjure up my own fancy job title. Something better than “Couch Blogger”.

  7. Rowena Post author

    Joanna, I love the eclectic mix of music on your phone and I think that’s what we’ve come to these days. Those old barriers between styles have largely broken down.
    I so agree with you about the whole snob thing. Life’s too short!
    Hope you’re having a great week.
    xx Rowena

  8. Rowena Post author

    I thought you’d fine that snippet quite interesting and I really appreciate your insights. My grandmother later worked as a music critic in the 50s and 60s and she wrote about the new music.
    Another thing she wrote about which I intend to write up about soon, was about the rejection of German music during WWII. The Sydney Eisteddfod banned German songs during the war and there was a debate in the paper about it. My grandmother stood up against it, which turned out to be very interesting because 2 of her daughter-in-laws turned out to be of German descent, including my Mum. It showed me how important it is to be careful about expressing your opinion.
    BTW I’m ignorant about Schoenberg and Coltrane but might know them when I hear them.
    Hope you’re having a great week. I will be relieved when the test is done and dusted tomorrow. It was much easier when I was doing the exams than trying to flog a resistant horse!
    xx Ro

  9. Rowena Post author

    Thanks very much. I’ll be having more of these historical music vignettes.
    It’s been interesting revisiting these newspaper stories since taking up the violin and dance and having more of an understanding of the need for technical competance and mastery as well as conveying the emotions. I remember as a kid learning the piano myself being told to play with feeling, which I interpreted as using lots of pedal. My dance teacher talks about really getting inside the emotions and going to that point of terror, anger, sadness, happiness and immersing yourself in it..and then releasing it. It’s been quite a new experience for me, which has also helped my writing enormously.
    Hope you’re having a great week.
    xx Ro

  10. Rowena Post author

    I’m so glad I could stir up a few memories. As you can see, I love reflecting and revisting those precious moments.
    xx Rowena

  11. The Showers of Blessing

    I used to hear from one blogger who went over his grandfather’s painting and writing. He was doing cataloging and post on WP. I don’t hear from him anymore. But what a precious endeavor you are taking! 🙂 Miriam

  12. trentpmcd

    Schoenberg is one of the more controversial early to mid 20th century composers. To people who have spent a lot of time with 20th century music his music is very accessible, but to the average symphony lover who thinks music progress should have stopped at Brahms, he is the devil incarnate. Nobody is more hated. John Coltrane (often just called ‘Trane’) was a “popular” (in the right circles) jazz saxophonist in the 50s and 60s. I think he is easy to understand, particularly compared to some people at the same time (Ornette Coleman comes to mind), but I’ve heard more than one person say, “I like jazz OK, but hate John Coltrane”. He was very influential.

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