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.
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!