A Century of Listening

One hundred years ago today at 6pm, BBC radio officially broadcast for the first time; a news bulletin read twice, the second time slowly in case listeners wished to take notes. The BBC is celebrating its centenary all year and of course including television. But today radio deserves the limelight.

Neither television nor the internet has left radio in the shadows. We got our first television when I was four, so I can safely say only radio has been with me all my life.

‘Lord Reith, first director general of the BBC summarised the BBC’s purpose in three words: inform, educate, entertain; this remains part of the organisation’s mission statement to this day. It has also been adopted by broadcasters throughout the world, notably the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in the United States.’

Whether you turn on the radio for news the moment you return home or don’t even own a radio, BBC radio has almost certainly been part of your life. My son tells me about various interesting podcasts he has listened to, which turn out to be programmes I heard on the radio in the kitchen. My daughter could listen with ear phones on her smart phone to Woman’s Hour in the middle of the night while feeding babies. Surely all of us have been informed, educated or entertained at some time by BBC radio. Even if you have never set foot on these sceptred isles you may have listened all your life to BBC World Service.

It is not an exaggeration to say I probably could not survive without BBC Radio, yes of course we have commercial radio stations and for a while I was a fan of Classic FM, but we were driven apart by advertisements! Radio has been a great companion whilst at home with babies, housework, ironing, cooking, insomnia through to my recent widowhood.

For most of us radio was our first introduction to music, from Faure’s Dolly Suite, signature tune for Listen with Mother to British light music such as Eric Coates’ Sleepy Lagoon, still the signature tune for Desert Island Discs which has been going for one hundred years, or feels like it. It was first broadcast in the 1940’s long before my parents even met, but it was one of the backgrounds to my childhood. If you want something a bit more lively Calling All Workers, also composed by Eric Coates was the signature tune for Workers’ Playtime, broadcast as a morale booster for factory workers in World War 2.  

Now we listen to every kind of music on all the various BBC stations, from your favourite pop song as you drive to work to Radio 3 broadcasting every single concert in the long Proms season.

Radio is above all the spoken word with no need for pictures; our own home theatre, story teller and entertainer. Afternoon plays, half hour comedies and specials such as real time reading all day of the complete Ulysses by James Joyce.

Do you listen to the radio, what music evokes memories? If you do tune in are you listening for news, music, drama or comedy?

Florasaurus

Spring is here and gardeners rejoice. Even non gardeners who can only recognise daffodils enjoy the splashes of colour popping up. But few gardeners are up to date with the important terms connected to many blooms, so here is a handy guide.

Daffodillydallying When you linger in graveyards on a sunny spring day, tiptoeing among the swathes of daffodils to read interesting gravestones.

Primulary A garden, or more accurately the totally neglected piece of ground around your home, that you attempt to improve in a panicky couple of hours when you hear your garden fanatic parents are coming on a visit. You buy a dozen ubiquitous primula and stick them in the ground. Alas, your relatives will not be deceived into thinking you have lovingly tended your garden all year.

Cyclamental An obsessive condition where the sufferer is unable to go in the greengrocers or a DIY superstore without buying several pots of cyclamen.

Heliboring is a situation viewers of Gardeners’ World may be familiar with or perhaps you have family or friends in this situation. Among the viewers’ gardens and places of interest visited each week by Gardener’s World will be an avid horticulturist who has the national collection of Aquilegia ( see Aquilegiance below ) or Hellebore. This gardener has no interest in any other kind of flower, or any interest in anything else. They do not go on holiday or even out for the day as they must patrol their acres of 3,000 varieties of gladioli or delphinium, pollinating and preening.

Aquilegiance Loyalty to one species of plant, even though you will never attain the rarefied position of owning the national collection. Gardeners with such loyalty spend their weekends and holidays visiting famous gardens and searching for their special favourites. Their Instagram account features exclusively pictures of their favourite blooms.

Campanulaship That happy state when you feel the need for no other company than your campanula. These jolly bell shaped varieties inspired Liszt to write La Campanella, though he may have borrowed a few notes from Paganini, who probably also preferred the company of flowers and who doesn’t?

La Campanella – Adam Gyorgy (2007) – YouTube

Florasaurus is the official guide to floral terms and derivatives.

Advent Calendar – Silly Saturday Nineteenth of December

YouTubular Bells

Bells are a popular theme at Christmas and Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells was a favourite of mine; this BBC studio recording was broadcast in December 1973, which is a very long time ago and now I’m listening, it doesn’t sound quite how I remember. But before you pop through the ether to hear all 25 minutes of it, today’s window brings warning of the perils of YouTubular. You may be sucked in, never to emerge into the real world again.  I don’t often search YouTubular. I used to wonder when I first started blogging how other bloggers made music magically appear on their blogs. Then I realised they did not actually play the music themselves or invite musicians to their house, they cheated by finding it on Youtubular.

It starts by looking up a piece of music, if you can remember the title or performer. You then discover there are hundreds of different performers, versions and settings, especially for universally known pieces. Some have no film, just a picture of a CD cover, boring, move on… but be careful, do you want to share a great performance of a choral work, or that film made in a tiny church with your aunty’s choir; their singing even more shaky than the hand of the person holding the smart phone to film them. Or you might find yourself in a flash mob performance and you can’t resist watching to see what happens next.

So at last you have chosen a piece to link in to your blog, but when you press Publish and check the link, there is some bloke you have never heard of singing a song totally different from the one you have just written about. YouTube moves on, it never runs out of music, you could spend all evening, perhaps the rest of your life enraptured by strange advertisements and led into the next piece of music…  If you like the music playing and it’s a long piece, you can read the 14, 378 comments and if you don’t like the music choose something else from the display at the side of the screen; scrolling down for ever and ever…

But saddest are the YouTubular videos that have 0 views, no thumbs up or thumbs down in the thirteen years they have been there, notes unheard. It is our duty to view, listen and share them; after all, we writers know what it is like to publish words that may never be read, disappearing into the ether forever.

Mike Oldfield ‘Tubular Bells’ Live at the BBC 1973 (HQ remastered) – YouTubehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KXatvzWAzLU

Friday Flash Fiction 555 – Phone Call

Doris danced round the kitchen, her mood lifted. What was this music, that composer who died young, they played it at that concert they went to… Thank goodness for the radio to ease the monotony of kitchen chores. She was having a big tidy up, making space. It was just as well her son and his family were not coming straight to her after flying in from the USA. Their delayed annual holiday was starting with a further two week delay in quarantine at an air bed or b&b; for the best really, she had managed to avoid getting English Covid, she didn’t want to get American Covid. Cassie next door would help her order a big shop next week, though goodness knows what the children’s likes and dislikes would be this year. The top cupboards would have to stay untouched, Doris had not used her stepping stool since lockdown, the last thing she wanted was a fall and end up in hospital on a ventilator. She just needed everything to look orderly so her son would see she was still coping fine.

Doris was startled out of her conducting with the wooden spoon by the phone ringing.

‘Hello.’

‘Good morning, my name’s Natasha and I am calling from…’

‘Hold on a moment, I’ll just turn the radio off, I can’t hear you.’

‘Noo… Wait, what’s that music, I love it, I’ve heard it before, but I can never find out what it is… ’

‘Lovely isn’t it, I know the composer…’

‘Who is it?’

‘…but his name won’t come to mind.’

‘Do you know what the piece is called?’

‘Some rhapsody I think, don’t go away, let’s hope they tell us what it was before the news comes on.’

Doris held the phone near the radio and strummed the counter top with her other hand, it was that time they went with Mary and her husband, narrow seats, no leg room for the men, concerts like that were off the agenda now with social distancing.

‘Oh that was lovely, thank you so much, I’ve tapped it into my phone, I’ll download it later.’

Just as well Natasha caught the presenter’s voice, Doris had been so wrapped up in the gorgeous music she hadn’t heard what he said.

‘You are very welcome Natasha, one of my favourites. I don’t do downloading, I still have CDs. By the way, why were you calling?’

‘Oh er um I understand you were involved in an accident recently and may be eligible for compensation.’

‘No, no I’m fine, I have been very careful, apart from that time with the secateurs, where are you calling from, council covid welfare ?’

‘So you have not been involved in a motor vehicle accident lately?’

‘No dear, I haven’t driven for years and Cassie next door doesn’t have a car. I usually get the bus, but we’re not supposed to use those now. Cassie orders on line for me, I’ll have to get a lot more next week. My son and his family are over from the USA, I think we’ll have a good old English roast and I’ll make him his favourite chocolate cake, even if his wife is on one of her diets and I never know what her children are going to eat… ’

Strange, the young woman had hung up.

Friday Flash Fiction – 727 – Musical Chairs

‘Mother’s decided she would like to go out for her birthday.’
‘We could take her to a film matinee at the Regent Centre’ suggested Roger.
‘No, she wants to go to a concert.’
‘Even better, free lunchtime organ concert at The Pavilion, sorted.’
‘I don’t think that’s what she had in mind; she was talking about the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, wants to look at the book when she comes round.’
‘When did she say she was coming?’
‘You’re picking her up now.’

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Twenty minutes later Roger helped his mother-in-law out of the car and escorted her to the back door via a conducted tour of the garden.
‘I see you haven’t got that gutter fixed yet’ she exclaimed triumphantly.
With gritted teeth he ushered her into the kitchen, the kettle was already boiling.

Leaflets were laid out on the coffee table as they sipped their tea.
‘How about Melodies From The Musicals,’ said Roger ‘or a piano recital on Sunday?’
‘Too dull; next Wednesday night at The Lighthouse sounds good’ she passed the brochure to her daughter.
‘Shostakovich, an hour and a quarter, are you sure?’
‘Yes, is that the symphony with the big orchestra and lots of drums? Good, let’s go to that, it may well be my last birthday.’
‘It may be rather loud’ said Roger hopefully.
‘Not for someone hard of hearing’ she retorted.
‘Roger, why don’t you go on the internet and see if they have any seats left? Make sure they’re on the end of the row in case Mother has one of her funny turns.’
He stomped upstairs while the two women perused the brochure.
‘Oh look Mum, the second half is a new commission, can’t pronounce the composer. Making full use of the percussion section, this exciting new composer takes Shostakovich as his inspiration. The fifty five minute work is a profound comment on post soviet, Twenty First Century Russia sounds a bit heavy.’
‘You’re never too old to try something new’ her mother chuckled.

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On Wednesday night Roger queued up for a programme as he waited for his wife and mother-in-law to come out of the ladies.
‘Thought you were never coming out.’
‘Long queue, everyone making sure they went before it started, it is a long piece.’
The old lady was pleased with her seat in the front row and settled back to watch the orchestra manoeuvre onto the stage. The symphony lived up to her expectations, the percussionists put their heart and soul into the performance. She tapped her feet and strummed her fingers on the arms of the seat. The vibrations shook every ache and pain out of her body, she hadn’t felt so alive for years.
As the applause died down she turned excitedly to her daughter and son-in-law.
‘You didn’t fall asleep in that Roger. Do you remember the last time we came here, the poor bloke only pinged his triangle twice; tonight he was in his element.’
‘Do you want to pop to the ladies Mother?’
She shook her head. ‘I wouldn’t mind an ice cream.’
‘We’ll try not to be too long.’
The old lady nodded and watched everyone get up to stretch their legs; she was soon sitting alone staring at the empty stage, wondering how steep the steps were. She stood up; within moments she was perched on the seat behind the timpani; how different everything looked from up here. She admired the array of instruments, drums, xylophones, glockenspiels and chimes; just as fascinating were the selection of implements to strike them. She picked up a stick and hesitantly tapped the drum, then struck it firmly.

A young man in tails strode onto the stage then stopped. An old lady smiled disarmingly at him.
‘You don’t mind do you dear, it is my birthday.’
He looked round nervously, then demonstrated each instrument and let her try.

Backstage the conductor was glad to hear the percussion section practising for the difficult new piece.

As Roger returned with three tubs of New Forest ice cream he was surprised to see his mother-in-law being escorted back to her seat by a member of the orchestra. Settling down, he read the programme with dismay.
‘Oh dear, I don’t think we’re going to enjoy the next piece, we could leave…’
‘Certainly not, I wouldn’t miss it for the world’ the old lady replied.

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Friday Flash Fiction 300 – Encore

I realised the pain had stopped, I was dreaming, pleasantly drifting, music somewhere. Had it all been a dream?

When I first got the diagnosis I had joked with the other players of the string section, cellos always outlive their players. Mine certainly would, she was already three centuries old, how many had played her? Drifting, where was she now, my beautiful instrument?

Doctors give you a sentence, what they don’t say is that only half the sentence will be real living. I gave her back, I didn’t own her anyway; few musicians can afford to own the great instruments. They didn’t rush me, everyone was keeping up the pretence I was going to play again. The only positive to come from my untimely demise would be another player getting the chance to play her.

We’re going on stage, everyone’s tuning up. I can’t see, the others are leading me on. When did I lose my sight? It doesn’t matter, I know the concerto off by heart. I just wish I knew where we were. My arms aren’t working, how can I play without my hands? Am I still fixed to all those tubes and drips, still dreaming… I can’t open my eyes, I can’t wake up…

Everyone’s clapping. I can feel the audience, I’m close to the front of the stage. I can feel the breathing of the other string players…  complete silence, I know I am in good hands. I sing the opening chords… they say the sound of the cello is the closest of any instrument to the human voice. I had a human voice, now I have a cello voice.

They say, who says, did I read it or just know it? They say when you die you become what you loved most.

Paul Jones is a brilliant young cellist; married to Emma Dexter they are the golden couple of the music world, but their lives are about to change forever when Emma finds out the devastating truth of who she really is.

Music, medicine and mystery are the themes of this novel.

Download the first in the trilogy for only 99 pence.

Friday Flash Fiction 200 – Debut

My eyes were glued to the screen as the credits rolled over the cheering audience and the presenter bade us farewell   …goodnight from the Albert Hall

In a few days I would be there, my debut at the Royal Albert Hall, at The Proms… of course I had plenty of concerts under my belt, but this would be special and I was ready. I knew the programme off by heart, I would be waiting back stage for my moment, fit and well, my hands in good shape, my best black outfit pressed.

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At last my moment had come. I could hear the rapturous applause, even back stage a camera was on me. I counted the seconds nervously, judged the level of applause then opened the stage door.

Out he came, my hero, tonight’s soloist. My palms were sweating, but I managed to coolly hand him the bottle of water. He took a swig and smiled at me before going back on stage to more thunderous applause.

For thousands of years rainwater had filtered through limestone hills, seeping out at the precious spring to be bottled for this moment. He had smiled at me, little me; but where would the world’s great musicians be without the backstage crew to ensure their concerts went smoothly?

Read more about the Proms in Wednesday’s blog.

https://tidalscribe.wordpress.com/2019/08/14/impossibly-positive/

Open the book to read another musical tale ‘Blind Date’.

 

 

Impossibly Positive

One of my favourite parts of summer is the world’s greatest music festival, the BBC Proms.

It didn’t always belong to the BBC and it wasn’t always held in the Royal Albert Hall. The first Proms concert took place on 10 August 1895 in the newly built Queen’s Hall in London. The aim was to reach a wider audience by offering more popular programmes, adopting a less formal promenade arrangement and keeping ticket prices low.

The first radio broadcast of a promenade concert by the BBC was in 1927 and every prom is now broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and repeated, so there is plenty of chance to listen at home.

The Queen’s Hall was destroyed by bombs in 1941, during WW2.

The Royal Albert Hall was opened by Queen Victoria in 1871 and is inextricably linked with The Proms. Even if you have never been to South Kensington you may recognise the famous round building and the warm red interior. Some of the prom concerts are broadcast on television and always of course the Last Night. When a camera pans down the height of the hall you feel dizzy and the top seats and gallery are very high. We once had cheap seats near the top for a concert with a famous pianist; we looked down as a tiny puppet tip toed over to a toy piano. The year we booked lots of concerts, so we could qualify for last night seats, we planned with care; big symphonies sit anywhere, but if you want to see your favourite soloist get the best seats you can afford nearer the stage. Live concerts are always different from listening to recorded music and The Proms have extra atmosphere; everyone is there to enjoy themselves and because they love music. At the end you emerge into a summer night and surge with the happy throng walking down Exhibition Road to South Kensington tube station.

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But there is a lot to be said for watching on television. As happens every year, with life getting in the way, I have recorded more proms than I have watched since they started on July 19th, but I have enjoyed several very different concerts so far. What struck me this year was how wonderful it is to have two hours of positive thoughts and enthusiasm with no mention of Brexit, world leaders or general doom. Music is a universal language that brings us together.

The advantage of television is having presenters to tell you about the music and chat to musicians during the interval. Our presenters are impossibly positive; after all they are listening to the best musicians from around the world and being paid to share their love of music. One of them is so enthusiastic he talks at twice the normal speed, if he was a piece of music he would be ‘Flight of the Bumblebee.’ Often presenters get so excited they nearly topple off their high balcony.

If we are not musicians we may not always understand what presenters and musical guests are talking about, perhaps they don’t either, but that’s all part of the fun. They may spend longer talking about a new piece of music having its world premiere than the piece actually lasts. If you hear the words this wonderful sound picture it probably means there is no tune, but hearing pieces of music you don’t know is all part of the experience.

When the music actually starts, there is more entertainment. The camera pans over members of the orchestra, to the happy prommers standing in the arena, then round to the huge choir. We can wonder why the biggest bloke in the choir has been put next to the skinniest, we can make comments on the dresses of the soloists and we can marvel at the blur of bows in the string sections. It’s all very different from 125 years ago.

Read more about The Proms

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/1sgMxZvFzHQG3Y1HktMfg6w/history-of-the-proms

Have you been to The Proms? Are you a musician or a listener?

My novel Brief Encounters of the Third Kind follows the story of a golden couple of music. The Royal Albert Hall has a walk on part.

As the first in a trilogy you can download for just 99 pence.

sunshine-blogger

 

 

Pause and Applause

We were at a matinee concert at Bournemouth Pavilion, near the front was a young mother with a little boy who was chatting excitedly, when the music started he quietened. After a few bars the conductor raised his baton for a pause in the music; the little boy called out in a loud voice STOP. It was so funny. The conductor lowered his baton unperturbed and the orchestra carried on playing, but before the next piece of music a busy body usherette came bustling down and moved the mother and child further back and to the side. I hope it didn’t discourage them from live concerts.  After all, the child was better behaved than some adults and Bournemouth Pavilion seems to attract more than its fair share of odd people when Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra are playing.

The seats are very close together with little leg room, not surprising in a building nearly a hundred years old, so just getting to one’s seat involves lots of very English ‘excuse me’s and ‘sorry’s. One afternoon in the foyer, an ‘odd chap’ was already causing confusion in the queue for programmes. Soon after I sat down he came shuffling along, huffing and puffing, treading on toes as he made his way to the middle of the row in front, then with much shuffling, grunts and elbows flying finally sat down. Nobody could believe it when in the middle of the first piece of music he stood up and reversed the whole procedure till he finally reached the aisle again.

One evening the lady in front of me started rummaging in her bag the moment the first notes were played, her friend whispered advice ‘In my experience the more you look the less likely you are to find what you are looking for.’ The rummaging continued until the last note when she triumphantly held aloft what she had been looking for – her glasses.

Surely no one would unwrap sweets noisily? Yes, perhaps they can be excused if they have just had a coughing fit. But why would anyone eat a packet of crisps in a concert? One evening, across the aisle from us, sat a lady who we assumed had come along as carer or friend with a very disabled lady in a state of the art wheelchair. The disabled lady sat quietly enjoying the concert and needed no attention from her friend, so what on earth was her companion doing digging in her bag, rustling around, disturbing everybody and probably the orchestra as well?

Visit another Pavilion concert in a previous blog.

https://tidalscribe.wordpress.com/2018/02/26/wagner-elgar-and-all-star-superslam-wrestling

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Not everyone intentionally causes havoc at a concert. We were at the Lighthouse in Poole, the BSO were at full throttle in a lively movement of a Tchaikovsky symphony when we felt our seats vibrating. It wasn’t the music; several well built Saint John’s Ambulance people were wheeling a stretcher down the aisle, with even more disruption as they tried to get to the collapsed man; finally they wheeled him off with his poor wife, clutching her handbag, following after them. The orchestra played on valiantly, presumably the conductor would not have seen all the action, some of the orchestra must have, unless they were totally absorbed in the music.

Some people enjoy a night out without hearing the concert. I knew an elderly couple who came to the Lighthouse throughout the season. He loved music, she did not and figured they could afford for him to go to more concerts if they didn’t buy tickets for her. She was quite happy to sit in the foyer with her knitting, holding court, chatting to the Saint John Ambulance and bar staff. At one stage she made a friend who also sat out the concert waiting for her husband.

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If you have never been to a live concert before don’t worry, you won’t draw attention to yourself if you follow two simple rules. Don’t clap till you are surrounded by applause; even regulars don’t always know when a piece of music has ended. Second rule, don’t stand up, don’t move a muscle until the orchestra leaves the stage. You may think the concert is over because the conductor and soloist have been applauded and left the stage. Don’t be deceived, they will return, perhaps several times to more frantic applause and just when you really think it’s over and you will be in time to catch your train or get to the car park before your ticket expires, the pianist will sit down smiling and play an encore. At one concert the flamboyant pianist played three encores, each with enthusiastic flourishes, did I detect  a look of panic on the faces of the orchestra members, was she ever going to go home?

 

 

Chords and Discord

Do you like those music quizzes on the radio where you have to listen to the opening or closing notes of a pop song or piece of music and see how quickly you can guess what it is? If you listened to an opening chord strummed on guitar for less than three seconds and not a single note more, would you guess the song? For many of us A Hard Day’s Night by the Beatles is instantly recognisable, probably bringing memories of the cinema where you saw the film of the same name. Paul McCartney famously never learned to read or write music, instinctively using chords, complex harmonies and change of key without ever learning the mathematical theory of music. Songs have always passed down through the generations without needing to be written down and we all learn to talk before we write. Perhaps McCartney feared the magic would be broken if he tried to learn music properly. Straight to fame without the years of study at music school, the only downside apparently being that he needs help to write his orchestral pieces.

In the days before recorded music, Bach’s astonishing output would have been lost forever if he had turned up every Sunday morning at Thomaskirche in Leipzig, expecting the Thomanerchor to perform his new cantatas off by heart, because he couldn’t write them down.

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For most of us, our attempts at learning an instrument bring our first contact with musical notation. I still feel aggrieved that I always ended up with the triangle and not the drums on the rare occasions when we had ‘the instruments’ out in junior school. But another opportunity presented itself when I was seven or eight. I waited till bedtime to ask my parents if we could get the violin out of the loft as I had to take it to school the next day. We had been told in class that if anyone had a violin they could have violin lessons, this was the first my parents knew about it. How I even knew that Dad had an old violin he had bought for half a crown in his youth remains a mystery, he had never shown us, let alone played it. But the instrument was duly produced and at school the violin tutor took it away and exchanged it for a quarter size. Maybe Dad’s original instrument was a Stradivarius and she made a fortune, we will never know.

Violin lessons took place in the same room as school medicals, the headmaster’s office up a narrow staircase in the old Victorian building, in winter an ancient bar gas fire was lit. I memorised the four strings GDAE, put rosin on my bow, learned the treble cleff  and did give one public performance; in our garage in the back garden. Mum’s friend round the corner had six children and we put on a variety concert when aunties and uncles were visiting. I played a solo, Three Blind Mice. The audience had paid sixpence each for the excruciating experience. That was the height of my career as a violinist.

Like the rest of my family I later attempted to learn various instruments, with little success. The guitar can sound impressive merely by learning a few chords, or that’s what I hoped, but I had the wrong hands, fingers not long enough. At college I was in a recorder consort, playing descant while the more proficient played alto, tenor and base. We performed at our lecturer’s wedding … and that was the summit of my musical career.

Since then I have attempted to teach myself on the electronic keyboard and piano, at least progressing to learning the bottom line, base cleff, but never getting up to speed or coping with any music that has more than an f sharp or b flat to deal with.

The fun of being a writer is that if you can’t be a brilliant musician yourself, you can create one. Emma Dexter is a famous young violinist, pianist and composer from a very ordinary unmusical family. In Three Ages of Man, second of the Brief Encounters Trilogy, a stranger has made an impossible journey to find out what really happened to the woman whose music he loves so passionately.