I suspect I’ve said this somewhere, but my parents had to pay extra for me to learn the piano when I was eight (nine, ten, eleven, twelve), because it was an ‘extra’. I did not understand this at the time, and was discovered sobbing one day by both of them. They presumably thought I was still upset that Gaitskell wasn’t prime minister.
‘What’s the problem?’
Sniff. ‘I want to learn the piano, but it’s an EXTRA.’
‘Oh for crying out loud!’ (Very apposite.)
What I had forgotten was that the music teacher (already commended in this blog) was obliged to write reports on those who were opted in, some return for the extra cash presumably being sought. I was just chucking out another box-full this afternoon, when – for no reason – out popped my music reports, carefully labelled by my father, as ever, but somehow mixed in with some material for a creative writing evening class. They paint a picture of a long-suffering man, struggling with an idiot.
Easter 1961: ‘His playing of notes is entirely separate in action and thought.’
Summer 1961: ‘His hands are becoming able to do as they ought.’
Christmas 1961: ‘He tends to be careless in looking after his music books… Previously I did not know he could sing so well.’
Easter 1962: ‘He is beginning to be able to coordinate his hand and his hearing.’
Summer 1962: ‘He is an enthusiast in general but not for piano practice.’
Winter 1962: ‘Many of the difficulties in his playing are self-imposed.’
Easter 1963: ‘His playing has begun to grow in confidence.’
Summer 1963: ‘He loves his music amd has put some polish on his playing.’
Christmas 1963: ‘Musical expression is hard for him at the keyboard where his fingers and feet are apt to get in the way. He is very keen.’
Spring 1964: ‘His playing is still a little too much based on guesswork.’
Summer 1964: ‘His music-making remains regrettably mechanical.’
Autumn 1964 (a different hand here): ‘He is interested in all kind of music but should remember that the best pleasure comes from playing the finest music really well.’
Spring 1965 (another new hand): ‘He is very keen on “popular” music and this does not help him to develop sensitive playing.’
Summer 1965 (same as Spring 1965): ‘In his own slapdash way he has learnt a good deal about the grammar of music … he particularly enjoys “folk music” played in the popular manner.’
Winter 1965 (final comment from the original teacher): ‘His technique is very limited and too cramped and rigid. In addition his appreciation of music is somewhat primitive …’
These tragic excerpts (for the poor men were obliged to write much more) do not reveal that, in the five years, I never actually reached the stage where it was considered even remotely sensible to enter me for Grade 1 in piano. Is this a record?
Still, they spotted my musical tastes.