Slow Movements

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Beethoven by Bike…… Slow Movement or Threshold?

It took nearly 45 years before I at last performed the Chopin Prelude I had so loved as a 3 year old at my mother’s knee.
Over all those years, although I put it back on the shelf, stuck on the ‘difficult bit’ many many times, it never crossed my mind to give up completely…. it just came in and out of ‘pending’.

Late Schubert Sonatas, the last 3 by Beethoven…. much of the repertoire I have played as an accompanist… they all have this one thing in common. They have required hours and hours and hours of practice, sometimes taking months and months of slow absorption before I have felt ‘ready’ (I am still not sure what this is!) to share them in public.
Of course, for a deadline it is a different matter…(here, I work from the back of the music and practice at the slowest possible tempo, free from faults, then notch the speed up, or when/if desperate, work out what to omit and how to keep it tidy!)
For many summers, Dartington Music Students would ring in a ‘tiz’ having forgotten to plan for an accompanist… so preoccupied with writing their final theses, it might be only at very short notice that I would be asked to play something extremely tricky. The Dutilleux Sonatine for Flute springs to mind… 5 days and my lovely flautist was not always entirely at home with 7 in a bar!
One of the most wonderful of these heroic last minute wonders was Benjamin Britten’s ‘Phaedre’, for mezzo soprano and percussion orchestra, with Harpsichord. Sarah was at my door, nearly in tears and hoarse with a sore throat….her accompanist had said it was too difficult and shouldn’t she sing something else? Not Sarah O’Brien. I made sage tea for her poorly throat (she asked me if I was a witch) and set about transcribing this for piano AND we brought it to performance level in, was it 2 weeks Sarah? An exhilarating challenge. I had thought it looked impossible, but it was so fabulous and spooky with the harpsichord that I found myself convinced and unable to refuse! We worked all hours. I recruited my 2 most reliably rhythmic ( Charlotte and Roseanna Perry COULD count) pupils to handle borrowed chimes, gongs and so on, and set up my digital piano on it’s harpsichord stop so that I could swivel between piano and keyboards. I can clearly see our tight little band now, exchanging hilariously intense looks of whites-of-the-eyes concentration!

It’s a fantastic Greek tragedy…. how apt!

The beautiful bride falls in love, catastrophically, with the groom’s son just as she is walking up the aisle. Not good. The only heart breaking possible outcome is suicide by poison. You could feel the electrified silence in every corner of St. Mary’s church as she raised the chalice to her lips.
This completey impossible thing turned into a dramatic and musical triumph…
We did it, Sarah, didn’t we, and we had the audience in our palms from the moment you walked on in that lush red velvet…. Oh Yes!

What I’m getting at is that this long experience of slowly piecing something together, little by little has so many parallels to the sort of slow progress I have made by bike. It is a matter of repetition and patience. Endurance. A belief in the impossible with the anticipation of beauty, delight and satisfaction as the powerful motivating force.
There are times when time really does stand still and times when the fleeting thought is to wish for it never to end. When the end is approaching there is a sense of both fulfillment and of poignance. …. a profound reluctance to let it go. After a big performance is the void and this takes its own time to level out.

Um, what I am trying to say is that this ‘chapter’ of Beethoven by Bike is rounding the corner into it’s last movement. It feels a big step to share this news and I confess to feeling very emotional and sensitive about it.
Whilst my busy brain is still protesting, ‘ but what about…?’ ‘ Surely if you…’ ‘ Perhaps ….’ ‘ weren’t you going to…?’ my trusty, loyal legs and body are saying ‘time to take a longer break’…. actually, truth to tell, my whole system has been saying this for some time and it is perfect to recognise this shift, to have come this far and had so much joy. Home, family and friends beckon now.
Those of you who have been such regular readers will by now have seen that there seems to be a host of good fairies or, as I call them, angels of travel, looking after my every need in a most precise and organised way.
I have just met Dina who you will have seen on her Tower House steps in the last post.
Dina happens to be driving overland in her big jeep back to Cornwall in a few weeks. Would I like to join her? Another plot that’s spot on if you ask me! not only that, she is thinking of coming into England at Newhaven, just 8 miles down the road from my daughter, Ruth and grandson, Ollie. Need I say more?

I’ll keep you posted!

Oh yes, today my computer clocked 3000 miles. 430m up at the beautiful monastery of Sotira, where I had breakfast. I wanted to know if I could still pedal! (I wasn’t carrying much more than a paint brush)

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Best in the under 55’s Nora Batties……( Told you I suffer from indescribable silliness )
And it’s the near leg that is at full stretch, incidentally……. Much more flattering for the bottom, that way 🙂

(Nora Batty is an old TV character on a popular British series who wore heavy duty stockings: the wrinkles collected solemnly around the mock sheepskin cuffs of her sloppy slippers!)

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6 Responses to Slow Movements

  1. Sarah O'Brien says:

    So flattered to get a mention in your wonderful and inspirational blog! Yes, I remember it well. I remember some of the expletives I used to describe the former accompanist will remain unprinted, but his rubbishness ended up being a blessing. I can’t remember exactly how short a time it was before the final assessed performance, but we worked through the blood, sweat and tears (and a speeding ticket I got on the day of the performance rushing to and from Dartington to St Mary’s!). I am so full of admiration for you, Jen. On a similar note, about accomplishing the apparantly impossible, I never thought I would run a marathon. So many years of my life had been spent being phobic of any physical exurtion and having chronic asthma from very early on in life had all been against me. Now a running/fitness freak, I will be running with the olympic torch in July.
    I look back at those few weeks we spent together and feel we made an unbreakable bond through our music. I’m so glad I found you on again (through Facebook!). I hope I get to meet you again in person. Sarah X

  2. Carolyn Butt says:

    You write so beatifully jenny. I will miss your posts but you’ll be an inspiration wherever you are. Thank you! xx

  3. Lorraine Stenberg-Holm says:

    Ollie is going to be so thrilled to have his pedalling Grandma back! We have so enjoyed your trip Jenny, good luck in the furture……maybe you will make another trip to Sweden, we would all love to see you again…..bring Ollie with you! Take care,Lorraine, Adelsö

  4. beverley says:

    I think there is definitely still a wonderful array of adventures ahead – whether by bike or jeep it doesn’t matter. As you well know, every moment counts and who knows what lays around the next bend. That’s the spirit of true adventure!! People, family, home can all be part of that. Enjoy. Relish. Relax if you need to. May life continue to unfold it’s many blessings on you and please continue to pass them on. And I’m sure there must be at least one or two pianos in Italy. If not, maybe the Sistine chapel needs touching up. xxxxxxx

  5. Kay says:

    Dear Jenny
    I thought of you when I read the following pages of an amazing book by Rohinton Mistry called ‘ A Fine Balance’… I think you may identify with some of the thoughts here… especially as you come to the end of your journey… I am looking forward to helping you put the pieces of the quilt together! Love Kayx
    Read on….

    Dust and flecks of fibre made Dina sneeze as she cleaned out the sewing machine and sorted the the leftovers. The rush of breath lifted bits of fabric. The last dresses had been delivered to Au Revoir, and Mrs Gupta was informed about the six week break.

    Now Dina regarded the approaching emptiness of time with curiosity. Like a refresher course in solitude, she thought. It would be good practice. Without tailors, without a paying guest, alone with her memories, to go through them one by one and examine like a coincollection, their shines and tarnishes and embossments. IF she forgot how to live with lonliness, one day it could be hard for her.

    She set aside the best swatches for the quilt, stuffing the remainder in the bottom shelf. The Singers were pushed into a corner and the stools stacked on top, which provided more room around the bed. The tailors trunk, packed and ready, stood on the verandah. The things they were not taking were stored in cardboard boxes.

    With two days to departures and nothing to do the passing hours had a strangeness to them, loose and unstructured, as though the stitches were broken, the tent of timesagging one moment billowing the next.

    After dinner Dina resumed work on the quilt. Except for a two-square-foot gap at one end, it had grown to the size she wanted, seven by six. Om sat on the floor massaging his uncles feet. Watching them Maneck wondered what it would be like to massage his Daddy’s feet.
    ‘That counterpane looks good for sure’, said Om. ‘Should be complete by the time we return’.
    ‘Could be , if I add pieces from old jobs,’ she said. ‘But repetition is tedious. I’ll wait ‘til thee is new material.’ They took opposite ends of the quilt and spread it out. The neat stitches crisscrossed like symmetrical columns of ants.

    ‘How beautiful ‘said Ishvar
    ‘Oh anyone can make a quilt,’she said modestly. Its just scrps, from the clothes you’ve sewn.’
    ‘ Yes but the talent is in joining the pieces, the way you have.’
    ‘ Look,’ Om pointed, look at that – the poplin from our first job.’
    ‘ You remember,’ said Dina, pleased. ‘And how fast you finished those first dresses. I thought I had found two geniuses.’
    ‘ Hungry stomachs were driving our fingers,’ chuckled Ishvar.
    ‘Then came that yellow calico with orange stripes. And what a hard time this young fellow gave me. Fighting and arguing about everything’
    ‘ Me? Argue? Never.’
    ‘ I recognise these blue and white flowers,’ said Maneck. ‘From the skirts you were making on the day I moved in.’
    ‘ Are you sure?
    ‘ Yes, it was the day Ishvar and Om did’nt come to work – they had been kidnapped for the Prime Minister’s compulsory meeting.’
    ‘Oh that’s right. And do you recall this lovely voile, Om?
    He coloured and pretended he didn’t. ‘Come on, think,’ she encouraged. ‘How can you forget? It’s the one on which you spilled your blood, when you cut your thumb with the scissors.’
    ‘ I don’t remember that’ said Maneck
    ‘It was in the month before you came. And the chiffon was fun, it made Om lose his temper. The pattern was difficult to match, so slippery.’
    Ishvar leaned over to reveal a cambric square. ‘See this? Our house was destroyed by the government, the day w e started on this cloth. Makes me feel sad whenever I look at it.’
    ‘Get me the scissors’ said Dina ‘ I’ll cut it out and throw it away.’
    No, no Dinabai, let it be it looks very nice in there.’ His fingers stroked the cambric texture, recapturing the time. ‘Calling one piece sad is meaningless. See it is connected to a happy piece – sleeping on the verandah. And the next square – chapattis. Then the violet tusser, when we made masala wada and started cooking together. And don’t forget this georgette patch, where beggar master saved us from the landlord’s goondas.’
    He stepped back, pleased with himself, as though he had elucidated an intricate theorem. ‘So that’s the rule to remember, the whole quilt is much more important than any single square.’
    ‘Vah, vah! Exclaimed the boys with a round of applause.
    ‘ That sounds ver wise,’ said Dina.
    ‘But is it philosophy or fakeology?’
    Ishvar rumpled his nephew’s hair in retaliation.
    ‘ Stop it , yaar, Ive got to look good for my wedding.’ Om pulled out his comb and restored the parting and puff.
    ‘ My mother collects string in a ball,’ said Maneck. ‘We used to play a game when I was little, unravelling it and trying to remember where each piece of string came from.’
    ‘ Let’s play that game with the quilt,’ said Om. He and Maneck located the oldest piece of frabric and moved chronologically, patch by patch, reconstructing the chain of their mishaps and triumphs, till they reached the uncompleted corner.
    ‘ We are stuck in this gap,’ said Om. ‘End of the road.’
    ‘You’ll just have to wait’ said Dina. ‘It depends on what material we get with the next order.’
    ‘Hahnji, mister, you must be patient. Before you can name that corner, our future must become past.’
    Ishva’s lighthearted words washed over Maneck like cold rain; is joy went out like a lamp. The future was becoming past, everything vanished into the void, and reaching back to grasp for something, one came out clutching – what? A bit of string, scraps of cloth, shadows of the golden time. If one could only reverse it, turn the paaast into future, and catch it on the wing, on its journey across the always shifting line of the present….
    ‘Are you listening?’ asked Dina. ‘ How strong is your memory? Can you remember everything about this one year without looking at my quilt?’
    ‘ Seems much longer than one year to me,’ said Om.
    ‘ Don’t be stupid,’ said Maneck. ‘ It’s just the opposite’
    ‘Hoi,hoi,’ said Ishvar. ‘How can time be long or short? Time is without length or breadth. The question is, what happened during its passage. And what happened is, our lives have been joined together.’
    ‘ Like these patches,’ said Om.
    Maneck said the quilt did not have to end when the corner was filled in. ‘You could keep adding, Aunty, let it grow bigger.’
    ‘ Here you go again, talking foolishly,’ said Dina. ‘What would I do with a monster quilt like that? Don’t confuse me with your quiltmaker God.’

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