Saturday 11 May 2019
I was once a big fan of the radio DJ Danny Baker, but this week, his tweet about the royal baby, at best seriously ill-judged, at worst shockingly offensive has seen him fall from grace publicly and definitely personally for me too. In a week where, sadly, the divisions between us can still feel stronger than the humanity that binds us, it is poignant that my musical journeys have also drawn upon themes of racial and social tension and the fear and mistrust of any groups who seem ‘different’.
After a morning of our usual Saturday activities we grab a quick lunch, pick up my mum and head into Manchester, destination the Royal Exchange for a matinee performance of West Side Story. It was my Dad’s all time favourite musical, it’s music by Bernstein, lyrics by Sondheim , it’s an epic explosion of youthful energy, sassy dance routines and musical mastery. But at its core, it’s a heart-breaking love story, a 1950s New York setting of Rome and Juliet with rival gangs now divided by race. True to form, I am teary-eyed mess by the end – God the music, ‘I have a love..’ ‘Maria’ ‘Somewhere’ … it’s too much for this emotional girl. I manage to suppress any audible sobs but I see off an awful lot of tissues! Top top production – go and see it if you can!
As the show ends, mum and the teens head off to enjoy a post-performance Italian. I set the Satnav for home, speedily rustle up some pasta of my own. Then I don my little black dress and head out to tootle oboe notes at a concert for a local choral society. It’s an uplifting evening, with several lovely friends in the audience. The second oboist forgets a crucial page turn in my main solo, but no-one but me seems to notice the 2 awkward bars of silence. I even get a bow!
But the music is West Side Story for the second time today, South Pacific, which addresses racial issues in the 1940s, Porgy and Bess, controversial as the first ‘opera’ to feature an all African-American cast and folk/spiritual music in the 1930s, ShowBoat, with themes of racial prejudice in 1920s….. we seem to have been singing and dancing around these issues for hundreds of years and to have learned nothing. Trump’s Wall, Brexit, immigration, Grenfell, The Rohingya, gangs and knife crime rises in the UK, …. more trivially Danny Baker. …
Will we ever learn to live together…somehow, someday, somewhere?