Monday 10 November 2008

Music Lessons

I'm sure I'm not the only who, reading this depressing story, recalled my own childhood music lessons and marvelled at how times have changed. I was taught piano by a distinguished gent in, I suppose, his 60s, who wore tweed suits and closely resembled the great Ralph Vaughan Williams. A bachelor who had spent most of his life dominated by a formidable mother (who lived into her 90s, on cigarettes and cussedness), he was an excellent teacher and a fine player. Among his eccentricities was to pronounce all Italian words as if they were English - hence acciacatura would be akky-akka-tura... And another of his eccentricities was, at the end of a lesson, to hug me to his tweed-waistcoated paunch for a minute or two, just that, with perhaps the occasional endearment and pat of the head. This never bothered me - coming from a not very tactile family, I found it slightly awkward, but then I found most things awkward at that age. The strange ways of adults were constantly bemusing, and we children just took what came and got on with our lives. As he would hug me in front of my mother, it was clearly all right with her, and I'm quite sure there was nothing actually sexual in it - it was probably no more than an expression of the paternal affection he would have lavished on his own children, had he been allowed to marry and have a family.
Nowadays, of course, the poor soul would be in jail. We live in a society where behaviour is increasingly dominated by the fear of litigation - and by hysterical supersensitivity to potential 'child abuse'. How are today's children going to develop if they are taught to regard any physical contact with an adult as 'wrong', as a sexual threat? The generalised affection and care of the older generation for the younger is already withering away, leaving the young isolated and alienated once they are outside the cocoon of the nuclear family - which is, we are led to believe, where most of the 'child abuse' happens anyway. Hey ho.


  1. The potty PC brigade strike again, sad times when you have to think twice before smiling at a child, one of the most natural of acts.
    I think the best term is "bunged off" to describe my introduction to a piano teacher. My mother was what was described as "a good pianist" ie she could play Claire de Lune without stopping, my uncle was a part time jazz pianist, so naturally...
    The teacher smelt of fags, the piano doubled as a bookcase and I still have a picture of the Crittal windows in my mind, the tuition I forgot about.

  2. A similar tale from my acned youth Nige, the difference being that my father-substitute (dad drifted off after the war) was a fine teacher who happened to play the piano, took a shine to me, and taught me about the theatre, music, tennis. The other difference was that the poor soul probably was gay, but simply had to keep any such feelings under wraps.
    He kissed me once or twice, but seemed to register no particular pleasure from this act which seemed to me to be..... mysterious. I think my mum suspected something was odd, but as I had no reason to betray him in my pubertal innocence, the friendship continued until I worked out, some years later, that girls were more to my taste.
    It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that, more than any other person, he enriched my cultural life in a way that my own family would have found impossible, and for that I will always be in his debt.

  3. I know my spellings duff but I can't believe that I typed smelled like that.

  4. Oh yes Mahlerman - so many single men of this type, sublimating or partly sublimating their feelings - or sometimes just unaware of them - did so much good in the lives of so many young people. Where are they now, I wonder. The teacher I've written about before - the one who died recently at 98 and to whom I owe so much - was gay as a bird, and happily 'practising', but he never took the smallest liberty, or risk, with a pupil. Unlike the art master, but that's another story...

  5. Ah, what memories. I had piano lessons too but never practiced. Why? Not because I didn't want to, but because eldest brother basically took over the piano as his own (and later became a very accomplished pianist -- won lots of competitions, and still plays every day). Both of our grandfathers were jazz pianists who played at the pub and, in the one gramps' case, on his own radio show. He also has a couple of ASCAP songs -- he was writing and playing ragtime music at the same time as Scott Joplin. When "The Sting" came out, it certainly wasn't something I'd never heard before. Grandpa Charlie was playing music like that since I could remember.

  6. Music teachers is it? for me it was the boy scout troop leader, glad I am that the tents in those days were circular or else the old bugger would have cornered me.
    He was a cracking scout leader though.