If you actually think about it, making and listening to music is one of the more bizarre things that the human species does. It’s an idea that’s explored in depth in Oliver Sacks’ book, Musicophilia. As he suggests, aliens arriving from another planet would be utterly bewildered if they somehow found themselves at any sort of concert. What exactly is it about a stream of apparently unconnected sounds that captivates us and produces such a powerful emotional response?
One of my favourite things is listening to my daughter practising the piano in the room next door. First of all, it’s lovely hearing her gradually improve. For some reason, I never get bored of listening to the same pieces again and again; each one always sounds a little bit different with each new rendition. I really like having someone playing live music in the house – it feels like a real privilege.
Most of all, though, I love the way the sound of the piano takes me back to the time when I was growing up myself. Scales and arpeggios invariably remind me of my mother cooking onions in the kitchen and my father coming home after a hard day’s work and the sense of being part of a busy, bustling household.
It wasn’t me that learned the piano way back then, however, but my brother and sister. My brother still plays regularly; music has remained a life-long passion with him. I was supposed to be learning the violin, but was never terribly good at it. As a result, I gave it up fairly soon after leaving home, something I’ve always regretted.
These days, my attempts at music making mostly consist of singing in the shower and warbling at the back of the Alto section of a local choir. It has to be admitted that we’re not exactly on a par with BBC Symphony Chorus or any other professional musicians, really, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s just nice being able to share music with a roomful of likeminded friends.
Perhaps if I’d practised my violin a bit more and been a bit more dedicated, I could have made more progress with it. I decided I wasn’t very good, and so stopped trying. If only I’d known then what I know now about making the most of your opportunities!
I struggle to make my children understand that the chances open to them now may never return and that they should make the most of what life offers them. I don’t want to pressure them into doing things they don’t want to. I want to give them the time and space to think, reflect and make up their own minds. But despite that, I also want them to realise how easy it is to let your chances in life slip away and to make sure they grab them with both hands!