Monday, 19 May 2014

You can lead a horse to water . . . I begin the task of trying to wean my son off Total Bollocks III on his Xbox and introduce him to something which might in later years give him more lasting pleasure. And you, too, might like some of these pieces

NB Have a bit of patience when loading this page. These soundfiles seem to load and play in Safari (on a Mac laptop) , Firefox and Chrome (on Macs and PCs) but don’t seem to on Opera on either platform. After spending a lot of time trying to find out how I can post soundfiles directly to the blog rather than create a video, use the soundfile as the soundtrack, upload it to YouTube, embed then embed the bloody video in the blog (around the houses or what?), I have now discovered that browsers which ‘know’ HTML5 (and, no, I haven’t a clue either, but there you go) can use a simply code. Opera obviously doesn’t. Also works on Internet Explorer on a PC, and also on my Android smartphone.

I’m sure every parent is apt to magnify what they regard as the talents of their children, while at the same time being rather blind to their faults and shortcomings. My daughter, 18 in just over two months, listen to a lot of music on her phone and the radio, but it is the usual crap played on phones and radios. Furthermore, and by her own admission, she can’t, as we say kindly ‘hold a tune’. She once put it to me with admirable candour that she ‘couldn’t sing for toffee’.

Actually, I don’t necessarily think she has tested her potential musical abilities as much as she might and, who knows, she might be a late developer. Her brother is rather different, and although he has now given up on the drums and hasn’t been near ukulele he asked to have for Christmas in what seems like eight years, I rather suspect that he does have a certain musical ability which might be worth nurturing. I first thought so several years ago when he quite astounded me in la-la-la-in to me two quite intricate theme tunes to two drama series which were showing on TV at the time.

My father showed no interest in music, and I can’t remember him ever listening to it. He reminded me of the anecdote of some US president or other who was said to know only two tunes: Yankee Doodle Dandy and all the tunes which weren’t Yankee Doodle Dandy. On the other hand my mother did like music and when I was younger went to concerts with her when we lived in Berlin because my father refused to. I even saw the late Otto Klemperer conduct, sitting in some kind of high chair because he was pretty incapacitated.

My older brother (the schizophrenic) had a certain musical ability, playing piano and guitar reasonably well, but as far as I know my sister (sorry, M.) (Later, May 29: Apparently I have been a tad unkind to my sister. She has been happily singing in a choir for these past 15 years, which, now I think about it she has told me about quite often. So, sorry, M, but for a different reason) and my younger brother lost out on those particular genes. I can’t claim to have much musical ability and my guitar playing is basic. I could, at a pinch, bamboozle someone who knew little about guitar playing into thinking I ‘wasn’t bad’, but a good guitar player would quite rightly have me down as a nine-bob note with 30 seconds.

But I do love music and listen to a lot of it. And it occurred to me that were I to try a little, coax a little, drew out a little, I might somehow be able to spark a similar interest in my son. I suspect our tastes become a little more sophisticated as we grow older: young children go a bundle on sweets and such which would disgust the palate of an older man or women. But young children don’t as a rule go for olives, or chicory, garlic, the foods which are known as something of an acquired taste.

When I was my son’s age – he is 15 in five days – I went a bundle on The Beatles, The Kinks and other groups, but whose music, when I listen to it now, seems to me rather thin gruel. As I have got older, I have grown to like ‘classical music’ and jazz more and more. Both seem to offer more substance, more body. But to try to spark an interest in my son (which, I’m sure, just needs elucidating) needs a little tact and guile. I think it would be counterproductive to introduce him at this point to, say, a Shostakovich symphony or Shoenberg or Vaughan Williams.

When I was ten, I began to attend a Jesuit college in Berlin. School was, as they do in Germany, six days a week from 8.30am until 1pm. I would be home at just before two, have my lunch, then dawdle around for a while before sitting down to going my homework. And every afternoon while doing my homework I would be tuned into AFN (the American Forces Network) to listen to the Don Ameche Pop concert. I can’t remember a single tune or song I heard except one, his signature tune, Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto.

I now gather that among snobby types, you know, the sophisticated sort for whom it is as important to be seen at a concert as well as hear the music, Tchaikovsky is a tad infra dig, rather too ‘accessible’ for polite society. Well, more fools them. And that piece, with its striking opening bars is surely one of the best ways to be quietly introduced to the beauty of some classical pieces.

My idea was to buy a small MP3 player and load it with ten shortish pieces which I think might interest my son. And, yes, they are ‘accessible’, but at this stage that would be no bad strategy. And for the sake of writing this post I have also added nine of those pieces below. I couldn’t unfortunately include the Tchaikovsky because the method I used to post MP3s of the pieces so you can listen to them didn’t allow me to upload it.

All the pieces are, in my view, very beautiful, although, of course, beauty is by no means a prerequisite of interesting, satisfying music. But I’ve chosen them because I think – I hope they might appeal to my son and encourage him in later years to do some exploring. There is no Bach, because ironically Bach needs listening and is not as ‘accessible’ – what an awful word, but I am obliged to use it – as other pieces. There is a predominance of second movements merely because a great number of them have a melody with a certain immediate attraction.

So go on, listen to them. Don’t bother listening to all at once. Listen to one, possibly two, then come back another time.

PS I was planning a post on why I think the distinction between ‘classical’ music, ‘modern’ music and jazz is essentially phoney and snobbish, but that will have to wait.

Stabat Mater - Pergolesi Giovanni Battista

Second movement of Beethoven's Piano Concert No 5

Second movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto No 21

Scarlatti Keyboard Sonata In F Minor, K 466

Claire de lune - Claude Debussy

Second movement Symphony No 7 - Beethoven

Second movement Piano Sonata No 14 - Beethoven

Requiem In D Minor, K 626 - 8. Sequentia, Lacrimosa - Mozart

Second movement String Quartet in C - Josef Haydn


  1. I will let you know, dear bro, that I have been singing in a choir for about 15 years!

  2. and I have sung Mozart's requiem and the Coronation mass in Cologne Cathedral...