Music

I come from a musical family. Oddly, though, musical talent skipped my parents' generation on both sides of the family. Neither of my parents could play any instruments. My father did take lessons for a little while. But I never knew it until he suddenly sat down and played a piece or two for the first time ever when he was around the age of 60! They did love music, however. And we grew up with our parents' style of music. When I think back to my childhood years, my memories are always of house in which music seemed to be playing all the time. On rainy days in the sunroom, there would always be Don Williams and John Denver, the Rolling Stones and Demis Roussos. Late at night when the half-moon smiled shyly through reluctant clouds on our isolated farm, it would be The Seekers, Pussycat, and the Bee Gees. On the long road to the hunting fields in Zimbabwe or South West Africa it would be Boney M. And in the Landcruiser at the ocean it would be the Beachboys or Roy Orbison's unforgettable "Windsurfer."

My parents didn't listen to classical music very much in those days. But one day my mother handed me a Strauss record and said, "I think you might like this kind of music." I was 8 years old, and she was right. I played that record almost to dust over the years. From my grandmother I acquired a taste for old-style music and Neapolitan songs and opera. Playing music in those days was not just a side-event. It was a wonderful ritual. In the evenings, at an appropriate time after supper, she would often ask me to put something on the turntable for her. Then followed the exciting moment of opening the record cabinet and being greeted by the warm and exotic fragrance of embuja wood. Flipping through the old 78 rpm records, and holding them up to read the titles. Remember how difficult it always was to read the gilt lettering on labels such as Decca and His Masters Voice? Switching on the turntable and waiting for it to gather speed. Softly lowering the needle. The scratch-scratch sound until the needle found the track. And then the tinny voice of Tino Rossi or Mario Lanza or Richard Crooks singing in tones which the world will never know again. Those were memories.

At the age of 10 there was a craze in our school to take music lessons. Everybody who was anybody had to take music lessons. I decided I would too - and settled on guitar. But before the lessons we had to take a compulsory aptitude test. During the test I made a few mistakes, started erasing my answers in the wrong place, got behind - and ended up messing up the entire score card badly. Afterwards the music teacher discreetly drew me aside and told me it would be better to try again next year.

I went home defeated, but unwilling to be beaten. If there was logic to music, I reasoned, then I would find it and teach myself. And so I did. I figured the piano out in a day or two. Later my uncle Keith showed me one set of chords - and that enabled me to play with both hands. Then my aunt Alice showed me another set of chords and suddenly I could play in two keys! Soon after that I realized that music just made instinctive sense. I could play without even trying. It just magically made sense.

When I had measles I was confined to bed for days. With nothing to do I asked my mother to buy me a harmonica. I found it to be a perplexing instrument to have the notes arranged in a manner which defied all logic. It was so different to the piano. I tried and gave up several times over two or three days. And then - suddenly - it all just fell into place and I was able to play a whole tune correctly at the first try.

After that the recorder made near instant sense. And then my Aunt Alice introduced me to the piano accordion, which I liked a lot. We arranged a trade. My dad shot a blesbuck for Aunt Alice’s dinner table and I got the instrument in return.

I have figured out how to play other instruments since then. Guitar probably took the longest and proved to be the most frustrating. The German concertina also took a while to master. But today piano and guitar are my main instruments. I seldom play the others.

In later years my grandmother showed me the basics of how to read music. Somehow she had a way of making music theory seem interesting. I was lazy, though, and never bothered to learn it properly. It is a pity. In later years you realize that perfect freedom has its own price.

  

My grandfather, my cousin Ronnie and myself on a quiet country night in a place which I'm not sure you'll easily find on a map today. My grandfather could play the piano, the guitar, the piano accordion and the harmonica more-or-less equally well.