Sunday, April 22, 2012

Haydn sets me off again ...

It happened again. That sudden tide of memory washing over and through, this time triggered by four notes: the opening of Hadyn's Symphony No. 104, The London Symphony. I opened the door to the room where the radio was on - Radio 3 - and the D minor introduction coincided with my arrival. That was all it took to whisk me back to another spring - yes, spring again - and the earnest preparation for the Glasgow Music Festival. I played second violin in this symphony, and if memory serves me correctly it was the last time our school orchestra competed and failed to win the senior class. The following year - when I was in S5 - we played Beethoven, and we won, and long after I had left my successors won again and again.

But that's not the point. What this memory took me to was a reminder of what a privileged education I had. I attended Hillhead High School in the days when it was a Glasgow Corporation grant-aided school: we paid minimal fees (£3.19.0 a term in secondary) and bought our own books and jotters. The classes were big - 40 was normal - and the classrooms bizarre because the corridors were open to the weather, with partitions that could be slid back to cool the room. Rumour had it that the school was designed for Kuala Lumpur and had somehow ended up in Glasgow. The music department had begun to grow when I was in P6, and by the time I reached The Big School and the Secondary orchestra there were two orchestras. By the time I left there were also several choirs and chamber music groups, and it was possible to forget that anything else actually went on in Hillhead. We played Mozart, Beethoven, Handel, Schubert, we sang madrigals and Parry, the chamber music groups tackled Gibbons. We did Haydn's "The Heavens are telling", complete with orchestra, choir and soloists. We were given no quarter when it came to repertoire, and we were expected to work till we could cope. We performed at the school concert in December - and after the St Andrews Halls burned down, we had three nights of these in the school hall to accommodate all who wished to attend them  - and at the Festival in May.

We took these performances very seriously. I never did learn how to deal with circles in Co-ordinate Geometry because the class did that bit when I was at an extra orchestra practice, and I would take the bus into Hillhead every afternoon of exam leave during my Highers because the Festival was always just after the exams ended. I had my first ever migraine during Festival week when I was in S6, brought on, I'm sure, by the stress of the occasion on my adolescent brain; it vanished the moment the results were announced (we won). I remember Herbert Howells, who was adjudicating one of the chamber music competitions, asking if this school covered the whole of Glasgow; there seemed to be at least one entry from Hillhead in every competition he judged. And I remember walking home with friends, all carrying our instruments, over Gilmorehill through the quiet May evenings, quite convinced that this was the best life would ever have to offer.

When I left school, it was the music that I was most distraught to leave behind. My experiences at school were certainly responsible for more of what happened in later life than any of the subjects I actually pursued formally, though I did study for a Higher Music in S6 and have Ordinary Music as a subject in my MA. But it is this time of year that brings it all back to me, Haydn and all.

Lucky. Pure, dead lucky. As my younger self would say..

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