Hugh Masekela – Thank you for the music

All I want to say is in the title.  The first time I heard you was in the brass section for Miriam Makeba, whose lp had made it´s way into my Norfolk home, a gift from a discerning friend. It played on a Pye black box.  I was so taken by the sound, I learnt your name from the sleeve notes (the good old days). When I caught up again with you it was “Hugh Masekela and the union of south Africa” and “Home is where the Music is”. But in the 80s I was given my chance to hear you live – in the “Bierkeller” in Liverpool, such an unlikely venue (trestles, beer and heavy metal) that I couldn´t believe it could be true. I went along, wearing a ZANU Tshirt and danced exuberantly at the back of the venue (as is/was my wont).

Some weeks later you played at a fundraiser for the ANC in Crystal Palace Bowl. I remember realising with a start that it was the first time I´d ever been frisked by black security staff, the inside out of South African experience.  It was a very hot day – there were long delays, all Gil Scott Heron´s band held at the airport, a rogue roadie testing the drums for ever – and when you and the band came on, the audience had been lulled into total passivity.  Just lying on the grass. I was up dancing again – again in the ZANU Tshirt that I was wearing as a badge of honour, and my friend said, “hey Rose, it looks like they´re talking about you”: Hugh Masekela and another musician were talking and pointing in my direction. “I was the only one dancing in Liverpool, too!” I said, and she laughed so much she fell on her back.

Tonight, the wind is sighing in the trees, outside the same house where I first heard you on record. Your golden sound is out there, circling the universe.

Taking my own medecine

I´ve made no new posts for months, nor any progress on the audiobook, because I´ve been laid up in hospital.  But I´m back in England now, and just yesterday played the piano for the first time in nearly seven months.  I simply hadn´t wanted to try before then.

It hadn´t occured to me  that though I couldn´t at first walk very far, that I would also lose so much muscle in my hands.  But each day I walk further: and starting to practise again reminds me what it´s like for a beginner, teaching your hands new tricks. Playing scales very slowly, and paying attention to getting the key right down.  Haven´t tackled finger exercises yet, but a friend commented how useful they were for combatting her arthritis.

From the book:

 Practise hints – for all scales: – bookmark this!

Practise the scales with the left and right hands separately before playing them with both hands together. 

Start steadily and slowly.  Aim for accuracy.  Although fingers and thumbs don´t have the same strength or length, aim above all for an even touch, giving even-ness of tone.  Practise them  loudly, softly, legato (smoothly) staccato (short).  For the moment, practise 1 or  2 octaves.  

When you can play a scale keeping steady time, without hesitation –  speed up, a notch at a time: that´s to say, with the help of a metronome, set it to a slightly faster speed, and practise the whole scale at the new speed. 

If you´ve got a keyboard with effects, play along to a rhythm.

Seferis and Theodorakis – beauty for today

Today I wanted to post something that felt important, that I wrote a few weeks ago.  I´d been on a fascinating journey, pulling on the thread of a beautiful piece of music, Theodorakis´ composition on Seferis poem “Denial”.  Just a few weeks ago,  musicians Andreas Polyzogopoulos, Vassilis Stefanopoulos and Alexandros Drakos Ktistakis were setting up for a gig in Gijón.  From my brief flirtation with Greek nearly 50 years ago I remembered the second verse of this, and jokingly, while they set up I sang it into the mike.

“On the golden sand
we wrote her name;
but the sea-breeze blew
and the writing vanished.”

Andreas immediately delved in his mobile, and came up with this beautiful recording, a tribute to Theodorakis by pianist and composer D Kalantzis, .  It was so stunning that tears immediately welled up – as if I´d careless picked up a pebble and it turned out to be a coin with Athena´s head on it.
To find out more, I later went to the library and took out collections of Poems by Kavafy and Seferis.  I thought”Denial” was a love song. I learnt it became an anthem of resistance. It speaks as powerfully now as then.
On the secret seashore
white like a pigeon
we thirsted at noon
but the water was brackish.
On the golden sand
we wrote her name;
but the sea-breeze blew
and the writing vanished.

Reading on about Seferis, I´m just so surprised to learn how close I´ve been, in real time and space, to some episodes of Cypriot and Greek history.  My father in the RAF was posted to Cyprus in ´52 – so as a toddler I lived in Kyrenia, for 6 months, before the British withdrawal meant we went back.  My parents were friends of the lady who lived where Lawrence Durrell had written Bitter Lemons, in Belapais, above Kyrenia, near St Hilarion.  Was Seferis nearby, when he wrote Kirenia?
The sense impressions left on me, the dusty white roads, the light, a donkey, my playmate Akis, were so strong that I went back to Cyprus to work on a dig excavating the mosaics at Paphos as a teen.
That too was a wonderful experience – staying with a kind family in Kato Paphos.  One day I went to swim at Aphrodite´s birthplace. Very briefly.  A shepherd drove his flock into the sea to wash them, and dirty brown clouds slooshed towards us.  It may not have been an “iconic” experience, but indelible, anyway!
Later I worked on a dig in Macedonia: my political commitment was sparked by a lengthy conversation on the bus from Drama to Thessaloniki with the foreman of the dig, and continuted with protests against the military junta as a student in Cambridge. Students were jailed under an eighteenth century law called “riotous Assembly” resuscitated for the purpose.
Explaining this to Andreas he said that Theodorakis had said he would not have changed the process – the passion and commitment of those days.
“With what spirit, what heart
what desire and passion
we lived our life: a mistake!
So we changed our life.”
Now we have to find new ways to change our lives.

y – a mis amigos que se esfuerzan a leer hasta al final – aquí el poema en español.


En la playa escondida

y blanca como paloma

tuvimos sed un mediodía

pero el agua era salada.
En la arena dorada

escribimos su nombre;

suave sopló la brisa

y la letra se borró.
Con qué coraje, con qué aliento,

con qué deseos y pasión

tomamos nuestra vida: ¡qué error!

y la vida tuvimos que cambiar.

Cliff hanger – will she, won´t she?

Will she, won´t she ever finish this book, “Play it by ear”?  Watching out of the corner of my eye the denouement to an action film, set me to wondering how you could make drama out of the final moments of getting ready to go to press – or Kindle, as is my case. At the time I was going through the text removing the () I had put on either side of the numbers for fingering.
It´s not even a book: although a beautifully illustrated book with a CD remains my dream. My first shot is as an audiobook, with Audible, but I have to publish as a Kindle first.
I´ve ignored all the good advice (about setting deadlines and sticking to them) but am comforted to find that “easy” really “does it”. In the last months I´ve had the text professionally copy-edited, recorded the text for the audiobook: I still have diagrams to go for the ebook, and the recording of the piano sounds, the editing and the mastering for Audible.
Even in small things, happy coincidences are coming to my aid: the other morning I lost half an hour´s worth of corrections that I´d already made: result, I was returned to the very place where I needed to make some more, and I started saving every page as I went!  I´ve been so spoilt with Scrivener, that I´ve forgotten these basic habits. The biggest and best of these happy coincidences was when my hardworking and always busy friend, Sarah Tobias, saxophonist extraordinaire, unexpectedly found herself with unbooked up time – came out to holiday with me, and put my nose to the grindstone! That´s how I got the recording of the text for the audiobook done.
Perhaps the best thing about all this, is that despite going over and over, listening, correcting, I still like what it says and I still like how it sounds.
That´s quite something.

Musicians – the best music teachers

There´s something very special about learning directly from musicians.  Saturday´s workshop in Meidinerz, jazz and modern music school in Gijón, Asturias, led by Andreas Polyzogopoulos (trumpet), with Vasilis Stefanopoulos (bass),  Alex Drakos Ktistakis (drums) and Cesar Latorre (piano), was a wonderful example.  In three short hours, there were specific tips for trumpet players, how to interact within a rhythm section, how to practise rhythm and accuracy, and scales,(for any instrument).  Also, the difference between the “swing” way of playing quavers (eighth notes) and the New Orleans way, harmonically playing more tightly, according to the exigencies of the more intricate structures of bebop harmonies, or more loosely in modal forms.  The importance of composing.

All this was shared from a knowledge of the history of jazz so profound tht it felt like a transmission from the source – as if Basie and other greats were in the room.
I nearly didn´t go, because I knew I wasn´t in form to play the little that I can. All I can say is – don´t miss the next opportunity of this kind.  Learning from musicians is the best: and despite an exhausting schedule, they gave total commitment to sharing their experience and encouraging us.  Since a friend from my book club complimented Andreas as “the poet of the trumpet” – it´s apt to quote from C P Cavafy, because I felt that this was their attitude.
The First Step
The young poet Evmenis
complained one day to Theocritos:
“I´ve been writing for two years now
and I´ve composed only one idyll.
It´s my single completed work.
I see, sadly, that the ladder
of Poetry is tall, extremely tall;
and from this first step I´m standing on now
I´ll never climb any higher.”
Theocritus retorted: “Words like that
are improper, blasphemous.
Just to be on the first step
should make you happy and proud.
To have reached this point is no small achievement:
what you´ve done already is a wonderful thing.
Even this first step
is a long way above the ordinary world.
To stand on this step
you must be in your own right
a member of the city of ideas.
And it´s a hard, unusual thing
to be enrolled as a citizen of that city.
Its councils are full of Legislators
no charlatan can fool.
To have reached this point is no small achievement:
What you´ve done already is a wonderful thing.”

noodling – doodling with notes

I can love the sound, the simple song, that my fingers make, idling in C major:  I can love the scrunchy chords that they encounter when I let go of controlling where they go:  I can satisfy myself rhythmically with a reassuring riff – I can love how I play a melody, the feeling world of my playing, when I simply let my heart do the talking, and am focussed in the emotional process, having left the mental strife behind.  I can show myself the generosity I show to other people, in encouraging them – I learn to love what I can play.  I learn to love myself in new ways. I learn to gift myself with rewards in new ways.  My heart is connected to my future art – my heart knows that this book is welcome, and welcomed – my love is flowing from the future to me, sat here, knowing that it is time.

A giant step for me, a tiddly one for mankind

A giant step for me – just sent off a draft of the first half of my forthcoming book (I´m practicing saying this!) “Play it by Ear” to friends to comment on.  The last time I did it, which was a long time ago, because I´ve been working on this for years, I made the mistake of sending it to dear friends who themselves lack confidence – and didn´t hear a thing back! Years later one of them told me that she hadn´t understood a phrase, but hadn´t liked to say so.
This reminds me of a story…from Liverpool, really a long time ago. Some friends from Scottie Road, the heartland of Liverpool as it was in the the last century, and still no doubt keeping that heart beating now, went to a workshop on self-assertiveness, then a totally new concept. My friends, from a background of strong female solidarity, hadn´t appreciated being told to say “no” to a request to babysit,for example, in the interests of “time for myself, setting limits, etc”. When no-one returned to take the second lesson, the teacher couldn´t understand why no-one had been able to say to her why they didn´t want to come back.  My friend had to point out to her that if the women were coming to a class on self- assertion, it wasn´t because they felt confident to tell the teacher she´d got it wrong!
This time, I´ve sent out my draft to friends who´ve supported me by showing interest, some of them over a considerable time – and I´m already so heartened by the response.