It’s never too late

’’Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there someday.’’ Winnie the Pooh.
I was born singing and dancing.

The taller I grew, the more I danced.

Singing got me through the day.

My first Ah-ha moment came when I was taken on a trip to one of the swankiest cinemas in London to see the ‘Sound of Music.’ I was four. I was hooked.

I pestered my mother to buy me the LP. I played it non-stop. I memorised the words. I was Maria, the Reverend Mother and all of the Von Trapp Children. I learnt all of the harmonies, and each time I listened, I sang a different part.

My mother soon got the message and bought me some more magical LP’s: My Fair Lady, West Side Story and the like. As she did not want me to grow up an ignoramus, she also acquired some classical albums. My mother introduced me to the greats: Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Wagner.

I will never forget the first time I heard ‘Moonlight Sonata’ played by Daniel Barenboim. I knew that my life would not be complete until I could play that piece with a love, style and finesse that equalled his.

In nineteen sixties England, most homes only had one ‘gramophone’ in pride of place in the sitting room. To ensure sole and undisputed access to that wooden box of delights, I took over the cleaning and tidying of our lounge, knowing my labour would buy me the peace to pursue my self-directed musical education.

Then, a miracle happened. It was early one Monday morning. Our class teacher herded us up the stairs towards the school hall. As we climbed, I heard the tinkling of the piano keys growing louder and louder. As we entered the hall, I saw that the music was not coming from a record; a real live man playing the piano that usually sat unloved and abandoned in the corner of the hall.

News soon spread that this was not a one-off occasion; the school had engaged a music teacher. I was in heaven.

Those weekly 45-minute music lessons, when Mr Chesire introduced us to classic pieces, then invited us to bang on drums, shake tambourines and zing xylophones, where bliss. He formed a recorder group which my friend Barbara and I attended religiously. Within months we were playing recorders of every shape and size. He was an enthusiastic young man, and in the 1960’s music was well funded in London schools. He took us around the capital to play in recorder consorts. We even played at the Royal Albert Hall. I was in paradise.

Eventually, he told my mother that I should have piano lessons, gave her the name of a teacher and arranged the rental of a piano.

The next 3 years were the best in my life.

Twice a week, I visited Miss Percival, my piano teacher. She was blind. She taught by first playing the tune and then standing behind me, placing her fingers over mine and pressing them on the correct keys until I got the right idea. As I became more competent, she moved to sit in a large winged armchair wedged between a pile of music and her grand piano. She followed every note on a score written in braille.

I knew that I was doing OK on the day when she invited me to play on the grand in preparation for my first piano exam. I knew I was doing better when she insisted that I stay and listen to the pupils who were preparing to go to music school.

At home, I spent every waking hour at my piano. I started composing little songs, I performed at every opportunity that I was given. Occasionally, I was asked to sing, but my nerves always got the better of me: I found it hard to remember the words.

I had only one desire: to take a degree in at the Royal Academy of Music, a place that I visited every few months to take the graded exams.

Then everything changed. My father was posted aboard and the piano could not come with us. I was Eleven.

The end.

The sad part of this story is that once I returned to the UK, I was focussed first on building my career, then on raising my family. I married a music biographer who sang semi-professionally, so my life was full of music made by other people. I did suggest that I take lessons, but there was always a reason for that not being possible. I came to the conclusion that he thought that I was not good enough. I never asked myself the pivotal question: ‘good enough for what?’.

The silver lining was that I amassed the most incredible body of knowledge about music and musicians. So much so, that I was always triumphant in that stupid game ‘name that composer’ that was a popular after dinner entertainment in the more pompous musical circles of the time. I could not stand and perform with the rest of them, but I could beat them with my knowledge of some pretty obscure musical trivia.

Years passed, my son grew, my marriage ended and any thoughts of making music became a very distant dream. I plunged into a depression so deep that at times it was hard to get out of my bed.

One evening, I was messing about on facebook, when a friend posted that he’d had ‘a brilliant night at choir’. I pinged him back asking where the choir was based and could anyone join. His reply was to invite me to go along the following week.

It was 2013. I was 53.

It’s hard to describe what happened next.
I fell in love. At first, some odd noises came out of my mouth, but they blended with the other 99 voices. After a few weeks, I realised that it wasn’t just my spirit soaring, I could feel my voice floating upwards, it sounded pure and clear. I decided to learn how to sing. I found a teacher. After 4 lessons she started preparing me to take my first singing exam.

It’s now 2017. This year I will take and pass grade 8 singing and grade 5 piano. I am a member of two very respected chamber choirs and I ‘fix’ two amateur orchestras.

Do I regret not doing this earlier? maybe it just wasn’t my time. Maybe I did not have a real understanding of what my place in music is supposed to be. Maybe I wasn’t mature enough not to be wracked with disappointment that I would never have a career as a soloist.

Music has opened up a whole new world to me: new challenges, new friends, new self-respect, self-confidence and new ambitions.

The point is that it is never too late; you just have to adjust your expectations and value your talent enough to work as hard as you would have as a young person starting out. You have to have the maturity to understand that your talent, whatever it may be, has been gifted to you. It is your gift and you have to learn how to use it in a way that will give you the most satisfaction.

All too often, as we get older, we impose false limitations on ourselves. Increasingly, I find that friends who are approaching their 60th birthdays are only really considering one thing: retirement. They want to make their houses retirement proof so that they won’t have to worry about fixing roofs in ten years time. They want to make sure that they have enough money in the bank to get their kids on the property market. They want to have enough money so that they can go on a couple of holidays a year. In their spare time, they may want to play a bit of golf or do a bit of painting. But essentially, they want to wait for death in comfort. They rarely see that they now have the luxury of time that can be used to gain mastery the passion that fired them up and made their childhood magical. They fail to see that active and focused engagement could bring them back to joy. They fail to see that the child within them wants to play and sing and dance in the same way that it did when they were five. They just have to give it free reign.

Getting involved in music has taught me that drawing my pension need not be the end of a useful and fulfilling life. If I apply the 10,000-hour theory and practice in a focused way, I can use the skills that I am gaining to entertain, educate and heal…but above all to keep me in my happy place.

I have recognised and accepted that I will never play the Moonlight Sonata like Daniel Barenboim, nor do I wish to, but I can bring a shitload of pleasure to a lot of people in a more modest and possibly longer lasting way.

There is an additional bonus: forcing my fingers to do 40 minutes a day of scales and arpeggios followed by an hour of learning pieces bar by bar, may hurt, but it will keep them strong and flexible enough to be able to open a jar of jam without the aid of one of those rubber thingies. Opening my mouth to singing, pumps air through my lungs and sends oxygen to my brain. Learning songs by heart in French, German and Italian, keeps my brain cells sparking and firing. Music is keeping my mind and body strong. Music is keeping me young.

Now that I have found it again, I will only abandon music to death or dementia; whatever comes first.

301216

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My benchmark for happiness

I was a happy child.
Anxious, but happy.
Somewhere in my teens, I read my first romantic novel, and my definition of happiness changed.
Maybe it was because my living circumstances were unbearable and I needed a fantasy to hang on to, but I fully bought into the knight in shining armour myth and have been waiting for him to arrive ever since.

Aged thirteen, I formulated a two-part plan:
Step one: get away from the circumstance
Step two: find the man who would make me happy forever.

Step one was a total success. By the age of 17, I had removed myself from the place that made me cry.
Step two has never been accomplished.
I have only just really understood why:

I am the sole arbiter of my own happiness.

This morning, I woke feeling sunny. I got up, put the kettle on and stepped out of the front door.
The sky was heavy with dark grey cloud, shot through with wisps of light. I looked up and spotted a dancer and a tortoise hidden in those clouds and thought: ‘yeah.’
I ran through the day ahead, nothing much going on apart from a few little jobs, and thought: ‘today is going to be a good day.’
And in that moment, I benchmarked what I was feeling, and decided that anything less than that simple joy in being present in the world for no particular reason other than I’m here, was not happy.

In that moment, I had no feeling of worry, anxiety, stress. In that moment it was just me in the world smiling. And that is enough to make me happy.

I have finally accepted that I am the person who is responsible for my happiness. Other people can come along and add to it, (and they do, frequently) but they cannot be responsible for making me happy or keeping me that way.

Today my intellectual understanding shifted from knowing it to really feeling it. Today I established my benchmark for happiness.

Catalyst

 

 

No longer pissed

But still in a mist

Looking for the missing bits

 

Health regained

Mind reframed

But still an empty space remained

 

I set about a quest

You see

To find the missing part of me

 

Music seem to set me free

But still I was not

Wholly me

 

I looked around

In great confusion

Was it just an wild illusion

That there was more to me

Than there appeared to be?

 

So in  the midst of my confusion

I fell into a great delusion

Thinking that my future lay

Where in the past I could not stay

 

I did not really understand

My future was already in my hands

It took you as my  catalyst

To  undercover my true bliss

 

Now I’m not really big on drama

But it took a little trauma

To make me stop and realise

My talent was not between my thighs

It’s between my big brown eyes

 

You see

 

I’d missed the connection

That would lead me in the right direction

Put me firmly on my path

Let my tears out

Make me laugh

 

It had been there all along

But I’d not practised

So it was gone

Re-emerging when you came along

 

It’s not about inspiration

Just daily practise and dedication

I don’t need to be smart

To create

And celebrate my art

Which comes directly from my heart

 

All I need to do

Is to sit

Gather my wits

Put my fingers on the keys

And start

 

21/08/2016

 

Her name is Friend

 

 

I have a friend

Who I depend on

Always there

For me to lean on

 

She’s always there

To laugh and play

There when I’m

In  deep disarray

 

I have a friend

Who I depend on

Always there

For me to lean on

 

And when I need

An ear to bend

She’ll listen, think

And help me mend

 

Never nasty

Never rude

But sometimes 

She is very crude

 

She is feisty

She is wise

Such love and caring

In her eyes

She will always make suggestions

Point me in the right direction

 

I have a friend

Who I depend on

Always there

For me to lean on

 

It hard to believe

That I have a friend called Eve

Whose love I’m happy to receive

I know that she will never leave

 

She’s always there for

Me to lean on

Always there

To depend on

22/08/2016

 

Hate

 

 

All the self help books relate

Don’t  waste your energy on hate

You should try hard to relate

To people in a happy state

 

What these good books do not tell you

Is pushing your feelings down will fell you

If you bury all your hate

You’ll be in a sorry state

 

You can push it down so far

Pretend you left it at the bar

But it will bubble up and hit you

Turn you round,

and bloody kick you

There  is not a single doubt

Unvoiced hate will rub you out

 

It will run around your head

Making you wish that you were dead

You will think you’re being good

Doing what you know you should

 

Hate locked inside

will poison you

Make you shameful and blue

Make you ill

Sick and tired

Make you feel all hot and wired

 

So let it out

It’s ok for you to shout

 

“Oi fucker!

You made me feel like poo

What did I do to you?

It’s fine for you to have  your issues

So, go buy your own fucking tissues

If you’re feeling totally pissed

Go see a bloody therapist

I know you’re feeling horrible pain

But don’t treat me with disdain

I understand that you’re insane

Letting your noxious feelings reign

I know you’re feeling awful shame

That makes you want to leave the game

 

A bit of respect was all that was needed

Then I would have conceded

Walked away and you let be

Miserable and free

 

But you hurt me to the core

Trampled on me

Made me sore

Walked away without a glance

Leaving me in a tearful trance

 

Walking away may have set you free

But made a prisoner of me

You took no responsibility

So I turned the blame in on me

 

Because, you see

I believed  to be good

You should

Push that hating down inside you

Don’t let it out

Cos it will bite you

 

Now I know that that’s not true

So fucker, I’m saying:

I hate you”

 

21/08/2016

 

Exposed

 

This is how the story goes

This is how the truth arose

This is where the story ends

With its little twists and bends

 

Love grew like a delicate flower

Hidden in its shady bower

Safe from harm

For a few bright hours

 

First a tiny seed took root

Which became a spindly shoot

Fed by earth, water and air

Nourished with  love

And constant care

 

And day by day the shoot grew longer

Darker, greener,  wider, stronger

Pushing towards the warming sun

Determined that it’s work be done

 

Then at last a bud appears

No longer is it  a feared

To show its shy and pretty face

Gradually cranking up the pace

Growing, taller,  bigger, stronger

Cannot wait a moment longer

 

Then all at once

The bud unfolds

Unfurling petals

One by one

To reveal it’s hidden colour

Gorgeous in it’s gentle pallor

So delicate

This brand new flower

 

But a cold frost passes by

Sears that flower

So, it dies

Brown and dark and shrivelled

Life once strong

Now dead and withered

 

Brutally murdered

Love is gone.