Vibrations in the Memory

‘You have to sing ‘Summer Holiday’ and ‘Draw on My Leg’,’ said the young boy we were babysitting on Saturday.

He made this declaration with the total certainty unique to nursery-age children that because he knew these songs, so would we. In fact, to the shock and horror of various British friends, we knew neither, not even, as we repeatedly asserted, ‘Summer Holiday. We have since heard both of them, but on Saturday evening confronted with a barrage of questions ranging from ‘why don’t you know them’ to ‘why didn’t you sing them in nursery?’ we did begin to think about music we’d sung in school at that age.

Brahms famous weigenlied stands out at once because that was our wiegenlied if you like, our lullaby, the song the music-box played and that we devoted years to discovering the lyrics to because our grandmother could remember no more than lullaby and goodnight/with roses bedight.

‘Allouette’ is there too, and ‘My Darling Clementine,’ though we can’t remember where we sang them. We know that for many years we loved to sing -albeit mostly flatly -‘Over the Rainbow,’ and now think it must have been this song, with its octave leap and falling sixth that seeded our love of Rusalka’s ‘Song to the Moon.’

When we think about our early-years music experience though, almost all of it owes to The Sneezepickle Songbook, a creation lovingly rendered by an irreplaceable music teacher who radiated enthusiasm for both her subject and her children in waves. It’s her fault that we sing the wrong words whenever ‘Early One Morning‘  strikes up on the radio; to us it will forever be about a bluebird heralding the spring, and nothing to do with heartbroken young women.

‘How does Robin Build its Nest?’ was another of her creations, and we think it was Mrs Sneezepickle who gave us ‘Fat Robin Redbreast.’ (She was a bird-lover, can you tell?)

We can’t remember more specifics, and to enumerate them might well prove redundant, because what Mrs. Sneezepickle and her songbook with its cover of hunter Stewart Tartan really gave us was our love of music. It doesn’t matter that our singing will never be more than amateurish. We’re not looking to make a career of it, or even a study like Iona and Peter Opie, amalgamating children’s games across the country for future reference. We only want to sing, even if it’s only ‘Summer Holiday’ to a sleepy 3-year old of a Saturday evening.   We’ve tried to explain why before, but think Madeleine L’Engle might say it best;

The kind of unself-consciousness I’m thinking about becomes clearer to me when I turn to a different discipline: for instance, that of playing a Bach fugue at the piano, precisely because I will never be a good enough pianist to play a Bach fugue as it should be played.But when I am actually sitting at the piano, all there is for me is the music. I am wholly in it, unless I fumble so badly that I perforce become self-conscious. Mostly, no matter how inadequate my playing, the music is all that matters: I am outside time, outside self, in play, in joy.


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