An ode to push-button Bach
`BUT Mama, all my friends will be at the party!'' I sobbed. ``They'll be having such fun and I'll be stuck.'' Stuck here, I thought, in our parlor, practicing dull scales while Paula and Meg and Jo-Ann and Peg are playing Spin the Plate and Musical Chairs and Blindman's Buff at May's party! I was only 7, and I LOVED birthday parties! I wept and pleaded, but Mama was not to be bent by tears. She said: ``I'm sorry, dear, but your music marks were very poor last month, and if it goes on this way you'll fail the exam and Pa will be very displeased. You know that, don't you?''Skip to next paragraph
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Oh, truly, I did know Pa's displeasure! He was a loving Papa, but severe, too. He was keen on education and I was being coached by a long-suffering music teacher for the first of the examinations of the Associated Board of the Royal Academy of England, in pianoforte. My parents desired me one day to become a teacher of language and of music. Both were very enthusiastic linguists and musicians.
That wasn't at all my idea of life. I hated music because it meant missing fun outdoors on half-holidays and missing delightful parties to practice dull scales and arpeggios. So, when Mama left the room, I played extra loud and deliberately badly to let her know she was bad! I banged on the wrong keys; never did I dream that one day I'd be on my knees thankful to Ma and Pa for making me study music.
The next few years found me practicing unwillingly for the next music exams after Primary: stiff steps to negotiate on the way to the coveted Musical Degree, Open Sesame to Teaching Music. But when I was 14, the hard matric exam of the University of London loomed ahead (in our 16th year we had to take it, in 1934), and they all (that is, my music master, my head-teacher, and my parents) said the intense study involved in preparing for a difficult music exam was too great a burden for me, and the lessons ceased. Thereafter I, too, was free on half-holidays and had no more Damocles' sword of music exams hovering over my head.
My musical tastes were certainly not developed at 14, and I never listened to music concerts on the radio if I could help it.
Years passed; I married, had a family, came to Canada. We were living in a far northern isolated community, snowed in half the year, far from cultural amenities. No library, nothing. Winters were very long, evenings unbearably so: Without our little battery radio we'd have been lost indeed. It was our main contact with the great outside world of civilization and culture. The year was 1944.
It was around that time that I discovered the charms of music. As I sat knitting or mending socks and sheets by the window, watching the falling snow, the strains of soft music floated into my consciousness with a pleasant, comforting effect. I had been hearing a Beethoven quartet. Each afternoon after that from two to four I listened to the music program. -- and always with pleasure and with profit to my temper.
I began to have favorites. Schumann's piano pieces, his woodland scenes especially, carried me away from the subzero temperatures and ice sheets to a warm summer day and a walk through a forest; but in a winter mood I'd listen to Tchaikovsky and the other Russians and see in my mind the vast, snow-clad steppes, hear the troika bells as magnificent horses drew a great sleigh swiftly over the snows, bearing its fur-muffled aristocratic passengers.
Of course, then I yearned to have a piano. I began to save, pennies at a time, for this item which I desired above a washing machine, a refrigerator, a phone, or a car, the other desirable amenities of the 1940s household.