Tag Archives: Jazz

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

 

Return of the Dancing Queen.

“I like attractive people who aren’t so terribly aware that they are attractive… people who aren’t afraid to roll on the floor and make fools out of themselves.”

Bob Fosse

Watch out world! The Dancing Queen is back.

Tonight, my dance class kicked off again for the New Year, and I was there with bells on. Well, I was actually still wearing my pink satin ballet slippers, pink ballet tights and a new addition…the black “tutu” I picked up from Vinnies (charity shop) last weekend.

While this might all sound pretty “normal”, it was a contemporary/jazz/lyrical class. For the uninitiated that means you DO NOT WEAR BALLET ATTIRE!!! However, I’ve created my own space with my pink satin slippers and they’ve sort of become “me”. Besides, they really are too pretty to hide away in my cupboard, now that we’ve changed codes. By the way, I’m not the only one who’s turned up to class with a certain je ne sais quoi either. Our adult dance class has a few subversive elements.

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While you might find someone with limited mobility is an unlikely dancer, perhaps that’s why dancing has suddenly become so important to me. That when something gets snatched away, you realize how precious it is and you want to grasp it with both hands and swing from the chandelier. Moreover, I’ve also found a safe and accepting place to dance and we’re a great bunch of people!! That has certainly made a world of difference! I can simply have a go. Do my best and hold onto that sense of sheer exhilaration for as long as I can.

I’ve also realized, now that I’m nearing 50, that I’m finally stepped out of my metaphorical cage. Indeed,  I’ve finally found my wings.It’s such a shame, in a way because I’ve lost a lot of time and they were always there waiting for me. However, I guess that’s why you have to earn your wings. They need to be appreciated, valued, treasured and used. They’re not just pretty ornaments.

Like so many, my reluctance to dance and my paralyzing self-consciousness,  wasn’t self-imposed. The cage came from outside. That constricting peer pressure, which decreed that only the cool girls could dance. That anyone as “unco” as me, shouldn’t be seen dead on the dance floor. Rather, you had to hide yourself away.

Yet, dancing is for everyone and by denying people the opportunity to dance and set themselves free in the physical realm, you’re cutting them off from their soul.

That’s not just rhetoric either.

While the context is a bit different, I still remember that dreadful scene in Dead Poet’s Society where Neil’s Dad wouldn’t let him perform in the play and pursue a career in the theatre, and he took his life. He couldn’t live being so estranged from himself.

That’s an important scene to keep in mind as a parent for a multitude of reasons.

Anyway, I digress. Getting back to tonight’s class…

Tonight’s class was inspired by the choreography of Bob Fosse. Fosse was born in 1927 to a performing family and hit the vaudeville stage at a young age. In addition to his more traditional dance education, Fosse had first-hand experience with the burlesque style of dance, and this informed much of his choreography. One of his earliest dance creations, choreographed at the age of 15, was a suggestive nightclub number featuring girls wearing ostrich feathers. This early moment hints at the larger thread of sensuality that would run through all of his work. However, his work isn’t purely burlesque. It is its own unique amalgamation that results in cool jazz movements.

“Live like you’ll die tomorrow, work like you don’t need the money, and dance like nobody’s watching.”

Bob Fosse

However, Bob Fosse was another world away tonight, and my eyes were glued to my teacher, Miss Karina Russell, who translates professional dance into something I can almost follow. By that, I mean something I can almost write about. The actual doing needs a lot more work. My  arms and legs were all over the place, which is to be somewhat expected with a new routine but I’m still trying to take in what I see  and am a long way of translating that into my own movements. Yet, not to be too hard on myself, I am on the way and it was only the first take.

Moreover, despite my struggles, I received nothing but encouragement. We had fun, laughed and I stretched myself beyond my comfort zone and also extended my body and mind beyond the width of my laptop. That’s important in itself. I spend hours writing, researching and not stretching my body beyond my chair.

Have you ever attended an adult dance class? Why or why not? How did you feel about it? I’d love to hear from you!

xx Rowena

 

Our Enchanting Little Dancer

I could have danced all night, I could have danced all night
And still have begged for more
I could have spread my wings and done a thousand things
I’ve never done before

I’ll never know what made it so exciting
Why all at once my heart took flight
I only know when he began to dance with me
I could have danced, danced, danced all night

My Fair Lady – I Could Have Danced All Night
Mesmerised, spellbound,enraptured…this afternoon we attended our daughter’s annual dance concert. Every year, I literally get swept off my feet by the incredible dancing, the music and the lighting and how it all comes together in a way that sweeps me away on some kind of magical carpet.
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Miss suffering having her photo taken yet again. I can see her starting a support group for kids with papparazzi mums.

Our daughter has been learning ballet since she was 4 years old. She did a year of tap. Switched to jazz. This year, she also did musical theatre and next year, she’s going to pick up modern. I don’t know enough about dance technique to know how good she is but she certainly looks like a dancer and that’s not simply because her hair’s in a bun. Put a dancer in a hessian sack and you can still spot them in the crowd.
Amelia with ballet shoes

Miss with dancing Shoes

Of course, simply looking like a dancer isn’t enough but surely it must help somewhere along the way?!!
Today, Miss performed with her jazz and ballet classes. While I was very impressed by the jazz routine, I was exceptionally moved by her ballet performance. The girls looked like a flock of graceful white swans, in the most beautiful white tutus.  They were absolutely beautiful and Miss looked incredible. My mother was so moved by her performance that she had tears in her eyes.
As I watched Miss dance, you would never know that she hasn’t been well this year. That she’s been through so much. We are so proud of our Little Aussie Battler!
Well done!
Now, a new battle is set to begin. I’m wanting to photograph Miss in her tutu down at the beach. After fighting with her to take her photo before the concert today, I strongly suspect it’s going to take some serious bribery and even then I probably have a snowflakes chance in hell.
Stay tuned!
xx Rowena

Dancing Away the Rain.

The last week has been pretty intense for our daughter.

Last week, I finally managed to get her to see a vocal speech therapist about the vocal nodules which were picked up a few months ago when her gastro-intestinal issues were diagnosed. These nodules are like calloused blisters on your vocal chords and by the time we finally reached the specialist all that yelling at brother and mother not to mention stomach acid, had created quite a hurdle. Sure, we knew her voice could be quiet but there was also the shouting and we’d I guess just become accustomed to her squeaky little girl voice which my friends considered “cute”. My daughter loves singing and so having trouble with her voice, indeed, being diagnosed with severe vocal nodules and talking about how her voice is already struggling to produce full words was alarming, catastrophic. In essence, I was told that her voice was badly broken and needed the vocal equivalent of a wheelchair. At the moment, that is temporary and there are exercises and quite a lot of restrictions. Failure to cooperate will have serious consequences and I don’t think she’s just talking about “down the track” or “in the long run”. We’re talking NOW!

Of course, after all of that bad news and feeling like I’d been zapped with a stun gun, we succumbed to retail therapy. I can’t even remember what I bought her but I bought myself an adult colouring-in book with motivational quotes inside as I felt myself being sucked down a very long drain pipe.

As a kid, I could never understand why my mother became so distraught when something happened to me but now I finally get it.

Our little dancing star!

Our little dancing star!

When something happens to your kids, you actually feel 1000 times worse because you wish it had happened to you and you KNOW that you are somehow part of the problem and there’s that incredible, crippling stomach-churning guilt. Either you should have stopped it. Acted sooner. Jumped in your private ambulance and pushed the accelerator flat to the floor and driven like a bat out of hell.

That’s what my grandmother did after my uncle sustained third degree burns to his hand while she was changing his brother’s nappy and I think her pressure cooker also exploded that morning leaving beans glued to the ceiling.

Miss as Gretel from the Sound of Music.

Miss as Gretel from the Sound of Music.

Anyway, Miss isn’t supposed to sing at all at the moment and I can’t quite remember the speech therapist’s exact words. However, essentially her voice needs to pack its bags for a bit and sit on a beach and read through that stack of books which is falling down beside my bed. Being a kid, there will be so cocktails but I’ll allow her a lemonade with a slice of lemon and one of those cool and groovy little umbrellas on the side.

However, let’s get back to the real world.

My little girl is growing up but for a precious moment, time stood still!

My little girl is growing up but for a precious moment, time stood still!

Last Sunday, Miss had her mid-year dance concert and she also does Musical Theatre. Not even a week after being told not to sing at all, there she was, crime of crimes, up on stage singing…singing a solo even. It was only one line but just like you pinch the last chocolate and hope you don’t get sprung, I knew this was a stolen moment. That one line was no doubt doing damage but when I saw her up on that stage in the baby-pink satin dress being Gretal from The Sound of Music, even if it was only an excerpt and they were only in the school hall, I was so incredibly proud!! It also made me tear up a bit as they sang: “So long, Farewell”. With my bad health over the years, these dance concerts are emotionally confronting but this time when I saw her dressed up as a little girl and knowing she is growing up so fast, I couldn’t help but feel I was waving goodbye to her. After all, next year she turns 10!

My gorgeous girl!

My gorgeous girl!

We returned to the speech therapist this week and had good news. She had noticed an improvement just in that first week. She has been given more exercises and appointments are shifting from weekly to fortnightly. I know I can be a master of denial but I was very relieved. After seeing my grandmother lose her voice after a series of debilitating mini-strokes and what that meant to her, knowing that my daughter had already lost much of her voice was devastating. Therefore, ever the faintest glimmer of hope and improvement is such a relief! We are actually turning the tide.

Just to elaborate on this “we” business a little, my voice is also struggling at the moment and I am doing my daughter’s exercises as well not just to support her but to also let my own voice out of jail. It’s very hoarse as well.

So what with dance concerts, musical theatre and good or at least, improved news from the speech therapist, those dark, heavy rain clouds lifted and a rainbow appeared!

How do you feel when your children experience similar setbacks?

xx Rowena

Becoming A Dancing Queen.

Once upon a time, I was a drama queen but slowly but surely, I’ve become a dancing queen or at the very least, the mother of one.

This afternoon, we attended our daughter’s annual dance concert and I am still buzzing. Of course, it was amazing to see our daughter up on stage but the show itself was incredible. Such a kaleidoscope of colour, movement and sound that I was swept off my feet on some kind of magical carpet soaring somewhere up towards the heavens. The flashy costumes were sensational and had their own performance under the coloured lights as the dancers wiggled, jiggled and swirled around the stage. It was also quite funny seeing my friends’ kids dancing around with their gorgeous blond hair glowing purple. I’m sure they’ll have a good laugh when they see themselves on the DVD.

Such energy and emotion being expressed dancing at the beach.

Such energy and emotion being expressed dancing at the beach.

Dance is the hidden language of the soul. – Martha Graham

It’s not that these performances were perfection personified. It was the ambiance. After all, they were mostly kids and there were rows of pre-schoolers looking gorgeously cute and really just getting a taste for being on stage with fairly simple routines.However, these small beginnings lead to much better things. Our daughter, who can be quite shy, says that she doesn’t feel nervous dancing on stage because she’s been doing it since she was four. The dance school aims to engender a love of dance and the benefits of dance to all its students regardless of their abilities. This kind of patient encouragement is a very special kind of love that changes lives and creates a better world…step by step. Nobody is beyond hope and as we all know, a lot of kids have a rough time away from the magic of the dance floor. I find this approach so refreshing especially as the Russell family who run our dance school are so talented. Not just Mum and Dad but all their kids and they are so incredibly down to earth. Just because you’ve got it, it doesn’t mean you have to flaunt it. (Take note “Bragbook”!!).

Our daughter relaxing before the concertlooking like the consumate professional completely unphased by the bright lights.

Our daughter relaxing before the concert looking like the consummate professional completely unphased by the bright lights.

I could almost get caught up in those steps, the turns, the passion and could feel myself up there on stage getting into it. Golly. I’d make quite an interesting spectacle up there moving out of beat waving my walking stick around until I tripped. It was so hypnotic that our son was bouncing up and down in his seat which was flipping up and down during one number. Actually, I’m surprised he didn’t become airborne and crash on to the stage. Mister might not have an afro but there’s a lot of musician Red Foo in our son.

The kids leaving for the concert in 2012. Our son was doing the boys' hip hop class and jazz.

The kids leaving for the concert in 2012. Our son was doing the boys’ hip hop class and jazz. Why shouldn’t boys be allowed to dance too?!!

My love of dance has been a very recent development. Being a very awkward teenager who frequently tripped over my own feet or banged into things and sent them flying, dancing was a hellishly embarrassing torment. Eventually, I worked out that I could sort of do three steps on each foot and wriggle my arms a bit when I was out clubbing and I’d be right. Talk about deeply inhibited… a bird trapped in a very small, constricting cage unable to move my wings. Somehow, I went from there to just shaking everything around without caring about what anyone else thought and set myself free. Now, I really love dancing but don’t get the opportunity very often and my body doesn’t always cooperate either.

Taking dancing out of the studio and onto the beach in 2012.

Taking dancing out of the studio and onto the beach in 2012.

   

   

    Dance like there’s nobody watching,
    Love like you’ll never be hurt.
Sing like there’s nobody listening,
And live like it’s heaven on earth.
William W. Purkey

 

What I have also found is that being a writer, I’ve spent my life trying to encapsulate my emotions, the things I see around me into words. The language of dance and also music was a very foreign tongue. However, my daughter opened my heart when she started learning ballet violin and far from just being Mum’s taxi, I was converted. I found a way to express whole ranges and nuances of emotion which could never be shut into words into words…imprisoned. You see, once you name and thus define an emotion, you put it behind bars…limit it. You’re saying that this is what it is in no uncertain terms and there’s no room for nuance. Yet, emotions aren’t usually so clear cut and dance, like music, conveys the sense not the just concreteness of the emotion. They are also more subtle and open to interpretation.

To dance is to reach for a word that doesn’t exist,
To sing the heartsong of a thousand generations,
To feel the meaning of a moment in time.
– Beth Jones

Over the years, these dance concerts have at times been extremely and painfully emotional. You see, I usually have all my medical appointments quarterly and I always seem to be squeezing appointments in just before Christmas and before Australia goes to sleep (I mean on holidays) all of January. You don’t expect to get anything other than a tan, sunburn and more freckles around here in January. The place grinds to an absolute stop. Away from the beach, it’s like a graveyard.

Having these medical appointments just before Christmas might be practical and my doctors and I have agreed that its a good idea to get everything checked out before the “Great Australian Annual January Slumber Party”. However, it’s meant that when I’ve had bad news, that it has, despite all my upbeat protestations, dumped a huge black cloud right on top of Christmas and I’ve felt absolutely rotten.

Couldn't resist this photo of our dancing queen in front of the box office.

Couldn’t resist this photo of our dancing queen in front of the box office at this year’s concert.

There has been more than one of our daughter’s dance concerts where my life felt like it was hanging by a very fragile thread…a thin thread of spider’s silk…and I have sobbed through her concert wondering who was going to do her hair and makeup if, and seemingly more likely, when I was no longer around. As I watched Miss dance across the stage in an enchanting tutu or one of her funky jazz outfits, everything was moving in very slow motion and was actually freeze-framed, frozen in time like a stained-glass window. I was heartbroken.

You often hear about a parent’s anguish of losing a child but even the possibility of dying and leaving your children behind is absolutely devastatingly heartbreaking. I am supposed to be there walking my children through the school gate. Twirling my daughter’s hair into a bun and applying bright red lipstick to her tender lips so she can dance across the stage and through my heart. I need to be there waving as our son sails past. When I think of that dreadful possibility, it chills me right to the core. I am so incredibly thankful and know that without my medical treatments and my team of excellent doctors and the researchers who support them, that would have been a done deal.

The ultimate Christmas gift: our daughter under the Christmas tree wearing her baking attire 2013.

The ultimate Christmas gift: our daughter under the Christmas tree wearing her baking attire 2013.

While this might sound melodramatic and I know I have fantastic catastrophising abilities but last Christmas I started chemo to treat the autoimmune disease which had then started to attack my lungs and I was on a grueling emotional and physical roller coaster. I’d never had chemo before so I didn’t know how it would affect me. I just remembered a few scenes from various TV shows and they were anything but pretty. At the same time, I was actually looking forward to having chemo. It was treatment and it could save my life. Chemo was hope. I was really singing “All I want for Christmas is chemo.” I wanted to live. I wanted to be at my daughter’s ballet concerts fiddling around with alligator clips, hairspray and gel and trying to construct a passable ballet bun. I also wanted to be there with my husband and son, my parents and brother. I also have friends…good friends. I had so much to live for but I could also feel all of that slipping away, drifting out of reach and slowly but surely sinking deep into the water.

But, unlike the Titanic that great unsinkable ship, I’ve resurfaced. While my progress has been much slower than I’d like, there has definitely been progress. Given where I was, I am thankful I’m alive…most of the time!

We don’t always have the luxury of surviving or by-passing the bad stuff of nightmares and sometimes the very worst actually does come to pass and all anyone of us can do is just keep putting one foot after the other and take comfort in God’s peace which surpasses human understanding and share a cup of tea with a friend.

As I approach the anniversary of starting chemo and all it entails, I am trying to leave those dark thoughts behind and celebrate what has truly been a fabulous victory and simply lose myself in life’ s dance.

If you are having misgivings as we head into the festive season, I send you my love and the hand of friendship. This time of celebration is also such a time for reflection and also remembering absent friends and a year which might not have been your best.

xx Rowena

Our little ballerina 2011 aged 5...leaving for her second concert.

Our little ballerina 2011 aged 5…leaving for her second concert.

What a Wonderful World!

What absolute impertinence! Just who does she think she is? A virtuoso?

There I was performing What A Wonderful World with virtuoso violinist Ian Cooper and for a few brief moments, the world really was wonderful.

Wonderful but I must confess that I was actually playing along to a CD. Moreover, I could only manage a couple of very precious notes. That didn’t matter. I was in seventh heaven. I might have been a legend in my own lunchbox but I didn’t care. I was living the dream, even if I was only nibbling away at the very edges of the crust.

You see, even playing these few, very precious notes was a real turning point for me.

My violin and I have been experiencing something of a lover’s tiff lately. I had been practicing so hard and yet I just kept making mistakes. I wasn’t getting anywhere and to make matters worse, everyone around me was really flourishing and it felt like I was rapidly being left behind. My teacher has been very encouraging and I’ve looked back to appreciate how far I’ve come but there’s still been that frustration. That sinking sense of despair.

Last year, I was really encouraged by the idea that it took 10,000 hours of practice to become a concert violinist. That if I do indeed practice, practice, practice, I’ll eventually get there even if I’m in a nursing home by that point.

However, the way I’ve been playing lately, I’ve been starting to wonder whether the magic 10,000 hours of practice would actually make any difference. Am I going to be stuck at this point forever never getting any better?

Soon, I found myself accelerating down that dreadful, downward spiral.

“I’m hopeless. Can’t do it! What a loser! Perhaps, I just don’t have what it takes.”

We can’t be good at everything. Yet, when I started playing the violin, I thought I’d found a missing part of myself. That there was a violin buried somewhere deep inside my heart, within my soul. We were bound together, inter-connected…one.

An unlikely duo...the Troll and Smurf Ensemble.

An unlikely duo…the Troll and Smurf Ensemble.

This etching appeared in the London Illustrated News January 6, 1883.

This etching appeared in the London Illustrated News January 6, 1883.

I love my violin so much that I’ve even been buying what I call “violin miscellania” on eBay. I’ve managed to find a smurf and even a little troll who are playing the violin. I’ve also bought some ornate 19th century etchings.

Moreover, I’ve photographed my violin and I even had Geoff take photos of me playing my violin  (actually pretending to play) in front of the Byron Bay Lighthouse. I looked quite the professional although I was a bundle of paralyzed nerves when someone asked me if I was going to play.

Playing my violin at the Cape Byron Lighthouse, Byron Bay

Playing my violin at the Cape Byron Lighthouse, Byron Bay

As you can see, I love my violin!!

So if I am that passionate about the violin, how could I ever let it go? Give it up without a fight? Surely, I couldn’t get it that sense of connection wrong but now it was starting to strain, rip and tear, I wasn’t so sure. It takes two to tango and as much as I loved my violin, I wasn’t too sure about its feelings for me. I was getting a lot of mixed, if not downright negative signals and I could feel the relationship straining. We were ripping and tearing apart.

After all my hard work and many, many hours of practice and all the love that I’d poured into that ungrateful instrument, was this it? Was it over? Were we actually breaking up?

I simply wasn’t good enough.

Surely, not?!! I still had a bit of fight left. If only I tried a little bit harder, I could get there.

I persevered and I persevered but there was no big breakthrough.

Actually, it’s all been rather heartbreaking. I might be a grown up and all but I still just wanted to cry.

I know learning the violin isn’t like cooking 2 minute noodles. You just can’t add water. Chuck it in the microwave. Hey presto! You’re up on stage at the Sydney Opera House. Besides, water and microwaves do very nasty things to unsuspecting violins…almost as good as a match.

Yes, I know it takes at least 10,000 hours of practice to succeed. I also understand that the violin is a notoriously difficult instrument to learn, particularly at first.

Yet, that doesn’t help.

It is soul destroying when my violin squeaks like a mouse being strangled. I hate it when I keep bumping strings, playing two strings at once. Worse still, it drives me completely nuts when I’m trying to play two strings at once doing double stops and I can’t do it. Why is it that when I want to play two strings, I can only play one and when I want to play one I seem to play two? This instrument is doing my head in.

I must also confess that I haven’t quite been keeping up with my practice lately. Last year, I was routinely practising for about an hour a day (You have to practice hard when you pick up an instrument at 42 instead of age 4. That’s many, many hours of practice I have to catch up on!!) Yet, it just hasn’t been coming together and I must confess that I’ve been watching The Voice lately and have been just a little distracted.

So I confess. Yes, I haven’t been practice, practice, practicing after all. I’ve slacked off.

Shame! Shame! Shame!

Perhaps, that could indeed explain my stagnation.

Anyway, on Sunday my daughter and I went to a fabulous local concert featuring concert pianist Simon Tedeschi and virtuoso violinist Ian Cooper. I thought long and hard before inviting Miss along to the concert. She’s only just turned seven and the concert went for two hours but she loves music and the tickets were very affordable. You see the concert was held at a local nursing home and was part of the Musica Viva series sponsored by Lend Lease. It was also a very relaxed environment for Miss’s first formal concert. Ian Cooper made a captivating host throwing in comical snippets about his musical travels overseas (encounters with gypsies on the continent and meeting a group of Irish fiddlers sinking Guiness and then playing with them in an Irish pub). The elderly lady next to me was singing along not so quietly to some of the Gershwin numbers and my daughter was struggling to get her iPod to work and was reading her rainbow fairy novel towards the end. The audience clapped along at times and there was even a bit of movement in the seats. After all, how can you possibly sit still when you are experiencing such amazing music? No! You have to respond!

It is hard to think about adjectives to describe these magnificent musicians. I am just an incredibly humble, beginner violinist and I learned the piano way too many moons ago. James Morrison, who has to be the undisputed King of Jazz in Australia and beyond, wrote: “Putting Tedeschi and Cooper together is like mixing nitro with glycerine-an explosion of musical virtuosity”. They played an incredible range of music from classical Bach through to jazz, Irish jigs and Gypsy music.  I can’t really comment much on the piano side of things. However, I was watching Ian Cooper very closely, astounded as his fingers danced on the strings performing absolute magic. I have been playing for 18 months now and still find fourth finger challenging. Ian’s fingers moved well up the fingerboard, which for me, is such a long, long way from home. It’s like flying a rocket to the moon when you’re only on your learner’s permit.

I must also say that Ian exceeded all of my wildest expectations when he announced that he wasn’t just going to play 2 strings at once but all four and he pulled his bow apart and wrapped the horsehair around the strings and actually played beautiful music. I was absolutely gobsmacked!!

Anyway, despite my vows of being more frugal, I burst through the door at interval heading for the CD sales. Before I knew it, I was handing over all my spending money for the week and had bought 3 CDs. This is fairly extreme behavior on my part because I only own a handful of CDs but I had to have them. I had to take this performance home and immerse myself in all that lush, beautiful music. Seize the moment forever!

Anyway, there I was on Monday morning listening to Ian Cooper playing What A Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong fame, when I reached for my violin and started to pick out a few notes and played along. A humble beginner, I was now playing with Ian. Well, I have to admit it was only a couple of notes because Ian sort of wove this magic that transformed this piece of music into something I can’t describe.  Suffice to say that it was way too brilliant for this little beginner. All the same, I really did enjoy our “duet”. It was absolutely awesome! A real hoot!! I was definitely laughing on the inside…especially after all my violin battles lately. I felt that maybe…just maybe…my violin was starting to like me again.

Yes, I know I’m dreaming but when you open my violin book…preliminary grade… there is a quote from violinist Yehudi Menuhin:

“To play great music, you must keep your eyes on a distant star.”

Yes, Ian Cooper might be a very distant star. A star in a some far off galaxy. Yet, I’m on my way a few notes at a time and it’s quite okay to be a legend in your own lunchbox after all.

I encourage you to visit Simon Tedeschi’s website www.simontedeschi.com where you can listen to a few teasers and read some of his articles or visit Ian Cooper at www.iancooper.com Better yet, try to see them live in concert together. They really were a sensation!

Yes, it really is a wonderful world.

xx Rowena

1960's melamine pencil lead holder from m violin collection.

1960’s melamine pencil lead holder from my violin collection.