Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Musical activities

So after four weeks of holiday the time has come to resume musical activity. I have always found it fascinating how refreshing a break from playing can be. Suddenly you seem to hear things with new ears, as it were, and once you start practising again so many ideas seem to spring up. And I seem to be lucky enough not to experience any tangible difficulty in getting those fingers back on form when I resume playing...

My first concert of the new season will be playing Schumann's Kreisleriana in France next week, but I shall come back to that in a later post. Before resuming pianistic activity proper I allowed myself a soft start involving the other two instruments which I occasionally pick up: the organ and the bass guitar!

The remarkable mess of pipes, windchests, action parts, bellows and electronics that makes up the organ, has a very special place in my heart. In fact it used to be my main instrument from the age of ten until just before I moved from home at about eighteen. The main reason I worked hard on my piano playing in those years was that my organ teachers made it clear to me that the piano was crucial to developing a good technique on the organ. When it was time to apply for music college I went for piano for this very reason and the idea was that I was going to go back to study the organ after a year. Well, that never happened, and I suspect that deep inside I already knew that I was going to become a pianist, although I had been advised against it given the difficulty of making a living in the profession. Either way, the organ remains a source of endless fascination to me and I really enjoy coming back to it now and then.

The organ console (organ speak for cockpit) pictured above is that of the organ in the village church in Sköldinge, 5 kilometers from where I grew up, and only a few kilometers from where I now live. This is where I had my first organ lessons and where I spent countless hours practising about 25 years ago. My poor dad had to drive me there and then sit and read a book for a few hours while I played my scales and stuff. The instrument has 25 stops and is unusually ambitious for a countryside church, and it was a fine tool indeed to have at your disposal when learning to play. The other day I played a couple of small pieces by Bach (on the anniversary of his death, as it happens) there in a little lunchtime recital. Very nostalgic of course.

I never listened to anything other than classical music as a child, and as a matter of fact in early interviews I maintained that I considered pop and rock music "naught but noise"! The truth is I realise now that I had no idea about any other style of music, so could not have known what I thought of it. Luckily that changed and rather suddenly too. When I was about thirteen years old I was introduced (by a viola player!) to the music of English rock band Queen. As so often in my case, this launched an obsessive fascination with their music, which has not entirely passed to this day. I found (and find) Queen's music a remarkable concoction of instinctive musicality, clever ideas, wit, sentimentality, and raw energy, and I quickly developed a great respect for the four musicians that make (or made) up the band. At about the same time as I discovered Queen, my music teacher in school, Bosse Sundahl, stuck a bass guitar in my hands. Over the next few years I taught myself to play bass pretty decently, if I may say so, largely by emulating Queen's bass player John Deacon.

This leads me to my other, slightly more light-hearted, musical activity of the last few days; for the last two summers my father-in-law has organized a barn dance in his barn, and for this occasion I have joined my various in-laws to provide some music for the dancing. This sounds nothing out of the ordinary perhaps, but in Sweden the particular kind of dance music that we play (dansbandsmusik) is highly stigmatized for being some of the blandest and most sentimental music known to man. We solve this by aiming for the blandest, most sentimental and most ridiculous songs in this repertoire, so as to really make a statement! And we call ourselves Svågerz Orkester - svåger is Swedish for brother-in-law - and we look thus:

Think you can tell a good time was had...!

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