Some of my earliest memories are of music. My mother was a singer and had a song for every occasion: The sun has got his hat on, Oh what a beautiful morning, I’ve got a little list. She sang in the local operatic society, so as soon as the new production was decided, we all learned the songs; Three little maids from school, When a merry maiden marries, A wandering minstrel I. In the years before television, the wireless was almost always on – Listen with mother had Eileen Browne singing beautiful RP arrangements of traditional nursery rhymes like I had a little nut tree and Three Little Kittens (I still remember all the words); Children’s Favourites on a Saturday morning had songs like The Laughing policeman, The Runaway Train and, best of all, Sparky’s Magic Piano. I loved the concept of just running my fingers over the keys and producing wonderful melodies. My mother and my younger sister played the piano and I had lessons for a while but somehow didn’t make the commitment to practise. I have had several shots at learning as an adult, but I seem to have a lot of hang-ups about it.
I found a ukeleIe in the house with an instruction book from the 1930s, bought strings and taught myself to play a few chords. Aged nine, I would do my impersonation of Tommy Steele Singing’ the Blues to anyone who would listen. Later I acquired a guitar and played well enough to entertain small children when I ran a playgroup, and had a brief flirtation with the harmonica, inflicting it on my husband on a holiday in rural France. I greatly admire a friend my age who has taken up the violin in retirement; she practises diligently, goes to lessons and plays in two traditional music groups. Having been told by my mother that I wasn’t a singer, I took up choral singing in 1996 and really struggled at first with sight reading, especially as the first piece I tackled was Bach’s B Minor Mass, as a second soprano. My musical sister made me tapes of my part for practice and I got there in the end. I now sing in our local choir and find that singing drives out other concerns and makes me feel good.
Still looking for the right instrument, I remembered I had bought a djembe from my African teacher, taking masterclasses at a drumming festival in Foix years ago. Unplayed and neglected, its goatskin had split. A Google search found a drumming group in a nearby town. The teacher fitted a new skin to my drum and
I’ve been playing since January. I love it! No music to read, the rhythm and sound of the drums is all-embracing and it’s great to make music in a supportive group. I’m also loving singing to my toddler grandson, taking him along to a Bookbugs session at the library where we’re learning new songs and rhymes.