‘Bob’ (Or, on the influence of my music teacher)

Over the past couple of weeks I have been preparing a performance. The performance was part of a soiree, for an audience in a very casual environment. The soiree had a setlist of pieces, but unbeknownst to the organiser, there was a second section of the night which consisted of a few surprise acts. My former music teacher, Rob Rathbone was directing the choir and the surprise was specifically for him. Bob (or as I still refer to him, sir) is retiring this year and a few of us from the past had reunited to come and perform to remind him of the various people who he has had a distinct and positive impact upon over the years.

 

It was odd coming together with familiar faces and unfamiliar faces all to celebrate the career of a very influential teacher. Throughout the night in the conversations I had with various people, I realised how deep Rathbone’s teachings, and even his personality had been a big impact on me. I loved the way how during the choral performance of the soiree, Robert gave descriptions and a bit of background about the historical context of the various choral pieces. Rathbone is a master of the preamble, the anecdote and a veritable raconteur. Later on in the evening, we had a brief chat in which we tried to out-raconteur each other. The conversation went as such:

 

RR: So, what was your recital piece again?

MP: I did Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s ‘Petit Suite de la Concert’ 

RR: Oh yes, I remember now. Coleridge-Taylor is a brilliant composer and it is a tragedy he isn’t played more

MP: Oh I totally agree, I cannot believe how influential he was on the idea of an autonomously African American culture in the early 20th century. It is a testament to his impact that he is held to this day in such high regard in the USA and during his own time. Coleridge-Taylor met Booker T. Washington, President Roosevelt and yet in England he is basically forgotten, it is a tragedy.

RR: I know!

MP: I have been writing a blog series about forgotten composers, and I am in awe of trying to remember the black composers of earlier periods, Jelly Roll Morton, Scott Joplin, Coleridge-Taylor. I am even writing a piece on Hildegaard –

RR + MP (unison): — von Bingen, the first known composer of written music!

RR: I think it is an amazing testiment to her ability and prominence that a woman at that time could be such an accomplished figure, it is brilliant! 

Robert was the one who instilled a passion for music history within me. To have an opportunity to play for (and impress) my alumni peers and my former teacher was a great honour. It was a great honour to play the piece that for me defined my pianism of that time. It was a great honour to represent my cohort year group of the early 2000s to acknowledge his impact on us. It was a great honour to play again as a piano soloist, as although I practice a lot, ‘playing’ to an audience is a much different affair.

Maestro, and former pupil (FYI he did not teach me how to dress)

I tried to instill some humour into my performance. I tried to instill a bit of stage pompousness and character in the way that I used to. Robert really appreciated that, to be reminded of the old times of our era. I spoke to alumnus after my era at the college and it was a joy to hear from them of similar stories about certain teachers. It was assuring to know that there are still some universals out there in the world, like a certain mathematics teacher’s wrath.

There’s an old Jesuit saying: show me the child and I’ll mould the man (with various variants). Returning to the college is like returning to my spiritual home. I felt that there are few other places that remind me of what I have become was as a large result of what happened within the walls of that colelge, and a big part of who I am and who I became as a musician and a person interested in culture and philosophy in a large part came from the pastoral and musical teachings of Robert Rathbone. As I walked home from the pub I made one last pass through the school and I thought to myself: after all these memories of the past what do I do now? I thought I might just go on with the present and the future and try not to dwell too much. What I can say though is that much of what happened in my past set the agenda that I still follow today.

I’ll try to get those essays on Adorno completed soon!

Michael

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Rediscovering musicianship in 2013

I think its fair to say that its official. It’s only been a few rehearsals so far, but I am part of a group of musicians who are performing together. We are a group of about 4-6 friends (depending on who is available/venue/available instruments) and between us is a lot of friendship, love and passion for performing.

I think it becomes official that we are a committed group when my friend who hates playing the Cello announces to great shock: I think its time to bring this along to our playing sessions. I have been rediscovering my musicianship over the past couple of years, by regularly practicing piano again and performing last year to an audience. Rediscovering involves an inward reflection of finding what it was in my past that made me a musician and re-learning what I used to know.

Lately I have gone beyond rediscovery and I am going into new and uncharted territories. I have experience playing as a piano soloist, but I am now going into accompanist mode. I’ve been playing accompanist lately for a singer, a trumpeter and a saxophonist. I’ve attempted to go through a piano duet (Faure’s Bercuse from Dolly Suite) and I am exploring some pieces that I’d love to play in an ensemble context. However it seems that I have a lot of emphasis on Gabriel Faure’s repetoire. There is an odd thing that the music I listen to is vastly different to the music I perform, and the classical music that I tend to lean to is vastly different to the music I want to play.

As a performer I am strongly leaning to the Romantic and to a much lesser degree the classical and baroque period. However if I were to talk intellectually about music my interests lay in composers like Bach and Schoenberg. I arrogantly said this week that ‘Beethoven may be a brilliant composer but Bach is a genius’. There is an odd tension between my performing life and my intellectual and aesthete sensibilities. On the way to the rehearsal I had a lot of heavy metal playing on my mp3 player. I play a lot of indie and other various genres on my monthyl playlists and I am very wide about trying to find music that I want to discover and listen to, but when it comes to musicianship as a form of self expression – things like black metal, heavy metal or Schoenberg go to the wayside in favour of Debussy, Faure and ballad like pieces. I’m a contradiction: Romantic at heart, but modernist at mind.

I think there should be more to be said for this strange contradiction. I may explore my musical sensibilities in future posts, especially as my involvement as a musician has expanded greatly recently. What a joyous thing it is to be able to perform with friends! I’m also going to try and break out my clarinet in the next couple of months…

Michael