Who plays a concerto 6 weeks after giving birth?

Tuesday 28 July 2020

Windsor, our trusty Toyota, is driven away for his first set of repair jobs this week and, as a result, we find ourselves stationary for a few days. In many ways, it feels like a flashback to early Lockdown. We paint the bathroom. We redesign the conservatory. We auction old furniture on Ebay; our first ‘non-cot’ bed becomes ‘my own big bed‘ to another child; the kitchen table is signed up for a very glamorous new life at a Night Club in town! There is one difference however, I finally put up a music stand and tootle some oboe notes …

Usually, I’d battle through the parts for my nearest concert. But, as Covid-19 has ruled out all rehearsals since March, I have to dig into my older folders and my past repertoire. And I find The Bach Double Concerto for Oboe and Violin. Oh what memories! This is the first full concerto I ever performed in public and it took place 6 short weeks after Small Boy was born!

If you are an expectant, first-time, musical mum, do not try this! It was utter madness. But Small Boy was not my first child, he was my third. Additionally, in over 3 decades of living at the time, no-one had ever invited me to play a concerto before. It was just too good an opportunity to miss.

I was in the very early, unannounced stages of pregnancy when the unsuspecting conductor offered me the job. I agreed enthusiastically, my outward face a picture of smiles and assurance. On the inside, my mind a whirlwind of rapid, mental arithmetic, trying to fathom whether or not I’d be tootling my part in the concert hall or from the Delivery Suite itself! Of course I worried about being too tired. Of course I questioned my sanity. But I recall being cheerfully egged on by my mum,

You’ll be tired eitherway; may as well be tired and happy as tired and miserable!”

And so I did it. I worked like a demon right up to the day my waters broke, juggling my job, two toddlers and Bach with, at times grim, determination. I allowed myself 2 weeks off, when we first brought Small Boy home and then, as he marked his 15th day, I resumed daily practice. The moment ex-hub crossed the threshold from work, I would hand over care of three under 5s and vanish to the back room for an hour of playing.

It didn’t matter that the violinist was a precocious 17 year old virtuoso. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t fit into any concert clothes, (my lovely mum bought me a roomy soloist-style sparkly top). It didn’t matter that I was completely shattered. I powered through with adrenaline and joy, reaping the benefits of all the pre-birth practice regime. The performance was terrific. It also led to tons of other gigs and concerto offers; my golden era of oboe playing.

Today, as I stumble thought the notes, I realise how much my technique and stamina have deteriorated over the last 15 years, particularly since moving North. Nonetheless, I find myself wondering,

Do I have another concerto in me?’

Hey, I’m the woman who performed her first concerto less than 2 months after giving birth so, to this or indeed other new challenges, … never say never…

Festival Time !

Sunday 16 June 2019

This week I hear that The Cure are playing Glastonbury and it makes me smile because, back in 1986, when I hitch-hiked to Glastonbury, they were the headline act. Unfortunately on that occasion, I went for a ‘little lie down’ in my tent and managed to sleep through the entire set! I briefly contemplate pulling on my green wellies and heading South Westward in 2019 to see if I can actually hear them play this time… but I realise that the full-on-festival chapter of life has probably passed. The Buxton Festival, that’s more my scene these days! And it’s to Buxton I head today, for a concert where I have agreed to dep for an oboe-playing friend…

It’s my debut performance with the Buxton Musical Society, the friend I am depping for is a brilliant player, the only rehearsal before today’s concert is today’s rehearsal and … I am not the best with directions. Taking all of this into account, I set off ridiculously early and am calmly on the approach to Buxton when I hit local roadworks and grind to a complete halt. And so it is that instead of making an elegant and timely entrance I race in, flustered, windswept, my head pounding and …. spectacularly late.

The rehearsal is in full swing and I have completely missed one of the pieces. From this point on however, my stress levels are eased and soothed away, for this is the Buxton Music Society, who, I am to discover, are the loveliest of people. They are delightfully posh and I crash into the middle of much guffawing over an anecdote about ‘the young Simon Rattle‘ and someone called ‘Jonty‘. But as I stand there looking forlorn and a little frazzled, they divert their cultured and eloquent tones to making me feel like a VIP, rather than a hapless and hopeless time keeper. Calmed with hot tea and kind words, I am soon in my seat and ready to play. The orchestra sound superb, which means that, as I float my oboe notes into the mix, it’s easy to sound good too, and I am soon really enjoying myself.

As the rehearsal ends, talk turns to tea. My friend has told me that I will ‘be fed‘. Expecting a few sandwiches and a long wait in a cold church before the concert, I have loaded up my Kindle and put some work into the car boot. But, oh no, this is not the Buxton way! I am collected, with 3 other orchestra members and driven off to the home of a Musical Society member for an amazing home cooked meal and just outstanding hospitality. As I tuck into my second helping of crumble and custard, I notice that my headache has gone and that I am feeling relaxed, content and very well fed. It is certainly rare but very agreeable to feel this well looked after, and it clearly suits me! I chat enthusiastically about ‘triumph’ of our hosts’ fine fireplaces and share musical moment and musical acquaintances with my fellow orchestral colleagues. It is gloriously civilised and I love it!

The concert goes very well, with committed performances from the orchestra and choir, and the young violin soloist, in particular, is astounding. It’s after 11 when I finally arrive home. I may have missed The Cure back in 1986 but today, not missing all of my rehearsal and not missing any of the concert or my fabulous meal, seems like more than a fair exchange…

Who’s Bruce Hornsby Mum?

Sunday 26 May 2019

Tips for different generations working together…

One of the things that is brilliant about families has to be the mix of generations. The ‘elders’ are often naturally assigned the role of ‘teacher’, and I do owe a lifetime of debt to the inspiration, spirit and sheer joyous times my parents and grandparents gave me. But, additionally, I learn tons from my kids about life, love, tolerance … and this week music! I suppose it is that very mix of the young, listening to but also challenging and changing the old, that is the way the world moves on… the family as the microcosm of society?

This morning I am driving two of the teens to Wales, to spend some time with my mum. Small Boy and I rise early, to wrestle his bike into the car, alongside conventional cases, basketballs … and a set of weights! By 8:30 am, we are all done and just waiting for my eldest to complete her packing. I opt for a second cuppa. Small Boy heads for the piano and soon the lyrical runs and melodies of Billy Joel’s ‘Piano Man’ fill the house. Wow – that is sounding amazing after only a few days. My talented son then moves onto Elton John (‘My Song’) and Bruce Hornsby and the Range (‘Just the way it is’). Spluttering into my tea, I realise, with a glow of pride, that this is a catalogue of many of my favourite songs. I have inspired my child to appreciate great songs of the 20th Century. I am passing on my wisdom and emotional depths to the next generation. I hurry to the piano room to share this thought, but am quickly knocked off my perch,

Who is Bruce Hornsby Mum? I am playing ‘Changes’ by Tupac

Ha ha ha … that’s me told!

Tupac (stage name 2pac) produced a rap version , featuring the Hornsby classic, in the 1990s. Small Boy plugs me into his phone to listen …. and I love it. The rap adds an angry relevance and urgency to Hornsby’s original track about poverty and racial division in the US. Here’s a mash up if you want a listen … the language on Small Boy’s version was a little too fruity for my blog… and I prefer the rap over piano, as opposed to key board!

And this is my second musical mash-up of the weekend. Had a great night listening to the Black Sheikhs in a Northern Quarter pub, as part of the Manchester Jazz Festival. I can really struggle with jazz , so was surprised at how much I enjoyed this gig. The quest of the Black Sheikhs is to jazz/swing-up a full range of pop tunes..anything from Bowie to Bieber; Adele to AHA. Some worked better than others; Bieber unexpectedly good, Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ a bit of a low point for me, but the whole set, and the whole bar, was jumping with energy and humour from start to very late finish. Top night!

My eldest now appears with a plethora of bags for her short stay in Wales, so I only have time to say, let’s make the most of the range of ages in our households. Let’s rejoice in mixing old with young, mashing-up and mixing up…it can only make ideas grow and strengthen and build communication and respect across the generational divide. Rap or jazz on the car radio anyone?

Black Sheikhs

Somewhere….

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?

Hallelujah!!

Saturday 23 March 2019

What a mad and magnificently musical-March it has been! This week alone, I have performed in 2 concerts and the kids have been in 3. We have careered all over the Northwest, discovering new venues, such as Manchester’s classy Stoller Hall, as well as playing in familiar favourites. We have been offered tea, wine and even, on one occasion, chips! It’s been exhausting, exhilarating and exciting…it’s how to do life!

Tonight was an explosion of joy and sound, playing for a local Choral society who took on every major choral work of the 20th Century. It was truly stirring, if a tad lengthy. (The woodwind section actually took a book out on what time it would finish!) Emotional for me too, listening to the haunting Pie Jesu, which I played at Dad’s funeral and playing in extracts from the Dream of Gerontius, the source of the quote on his headstone “Farewell, but not forever…”

I am winding down, with a well earned G&T, when a worrying thought pops into my head, What am I going to do when it’s all over? The musical mayhem, I’ve juggled since January, comes to a glorious end next Saturday with the mighty Mahler 5. Will I be able to cope as I scale back to one weekly rehearsal and a less hectic life? Then I remember that we have, GCSEs , Uni Open days, Work Experience for both girls and Summer Sun to plan for and fit in …something tells me it’s not going to quieten down at all! Well Hallelujah…

When your realise you’ve overdone it!

Friday 25 January 2019 
Oh my goodness, a day that began at 6am finally finishes as I arrive home at 10:30 pm and I am spent! As I head to the fridge and find it stocked with wine but no milk, I also feel like pretty feckless specimen of parenthood! 

I pour myself a glass anyway and decide I deserve it. I am back from a rehearsal and it’s not exactly the first rehearsal of the week. No, I am a musician, strictly amateur, who has said yes to a few too many job offers in recent weeks and I now find myself juggling about four different sets of orchestral commitments. I have spent a glorious week hurtling around Lancashire, in the fog and snow, to exotic locations such as Chorley, Blackburn and Bolton to tootle my oboe notes and make music. I have loved nearly every minute of it (petrol light flashing on a dark blizzard-hit M65 was a bit of a stress point), but upon reflection…..I wonder it I have overdone it? It’s not just the lack of milk, nor the fact that only a cheese pie, produced my my youngest in school cookery class, saved us from food disaster this evening, it’s also that, as I fly in and out, I hear children, muttering ‘again?’ or ‘another rehearsal?’ with a definite accusing edge to their voices…As the spawn of musical parents, it was never really an option not to play an instrument and I began lessons at the age of 12. And now, I am grateful to my core, because, at times, music has been the only thing that has kept me sane and I have always fought hard to keep playing. When my marriage broke up I managed to get to a few rehearsals by giving up (amongst many other things) a cleaner and spending the money paying for the same lovely lady to babysit instead. And those rehearsals were an absolute lifeline!

These days playing music mostly makes me feel  incredibly happy. I love being part of the noise, I love feeling my soul stir, I love my mind being overtaken by melody and emotion … it’s just utterly fantastic! It’s also a link to the past which can be sadder. Dad was a musician and sometimes, as I hear a piece of music that I can picture him conducting or playing, I still feel myself wobble. In particular, I cannot reach the end of Beethoven’s Pastoral without big fat tears rolling down my face,  because whenever Mum went to hear him perform, Dad would always serenade her with one of its Horn solos as she entered the auditorium. I guess I am just a Real Emotional Girl and that makes music a perfect companion. 

But, whilst I may have music in my soul, whilst I may thrive on the excitement of a week eating on the go and caring little about the state of the house, I’m not flying solo through life. I am part of, in fact I am captain of, a team. And the balance, that trickiest of balances between personal freedom and parental responsibility, hasn’t worked for my super-squad this week. I can have music, just not quite this much!  I look at the calendar, life looks a little crazier than usual until Easter,  but I resolve, with only a slightly heavy heart, to say ‘Yes, I’ll play’ a little less after that…