Sunday, January 25, 2009
Variation on an East End symphony
My elementary school did have something the Weald schoolroom did not possess. Electrical equipment! Once a week, two teachers wheeled in a large gray box covered in stretched cloth. In the box was a gramophone – without a wind-up handle! Through this mysterious contraption, we heard Tchaikovsky’s Peter and the Wolf and Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Of course, I did not know it was Britten at the time. I found out years later, when I heard it again, without the school version’s patronizing narration. Back then, the energy and excitement of the music was lost on us. We stared into space, trying to fathom why our teachers were so happy. They beamed at each other, rocked back and forth on their feet, and nodded sagely over something or other. One teacher conducted an imaginary orchestra with his hands in his trouser pockets. A little provocative, even to our innocent eyes. Occasionally, and with less gyrations, he conducted by gripping the lapels of his tweed sports jacket; then only his folded arms would flap about, like stunted wings. He tried hard not to betray the passion he so fervently felt and we hopelessly lacked.