March 01,2014


"Tales From Outside The Underbrush" is meant to succeed the monthly series of predecessor essays that were in effect, largely if not exclusively set inside "The Underbrush" of geological exploration and forestry, to a universe outside that specialized environment. This "outside world" is one where life is also lived and experienced, and though most often reflecting a different level of circumstance, is not necessarily suggestive of a higher level of civilized behaviour and experience nor a more intelligent reaction to such by the author; just different and outside the conventional underbrush. Hyperbole will continue to be employed for emphasis or effect, or just to avoid the boredom of straight fact or opinion. Reader reaction and comment is invited and welcomed if delivered in a civilized fashion.

This month's entry continues the tale.


"Music has charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak."

William Congreve

"People who don't like classical music just don't listen to it loud enough."

Mark Hahn

"Classical music is the kind we keep thinking will turn into a tune."

Frank Hubbard

As a geologist and briefly, forester, I am not sure about the "soften rocks" and "bend a knotted oak" capabilities of music but a world without music would be unimaginable. While the practice of music in early human history is not on record, unlike the so-called prehistoric art that has been preserved in cave dwellings, it is hard to conceive of an environment where the practice of intentional sounds did not play an important role in the course of early human evolution. Whether these sounds originated from the deliberate imitation of natural sounds, perhaps for the purposes of hunting, or whether for ritual ceremonies, the attraction of mates or purely for the purposes of entertainment can never be known. Discovered in a cave in Germany, an ivory flute carved from a mammoth tusk and dated as 42,000 years old, gives ample indication that the intentional production of sounds by humans from manufactured instruments has a long history and was almost certainly preceded by human vocalizations.

In more recent history, those who may have read "Capers On A CCM" will know that I took up a more modern musical instrument called the violin at some time while still in public school. I think it might have been when I was in grade five which would make me ten years of age. Why I did so remains a mystery to this day, but I have my suspicions. I came not from a family of major musical background, although my mother played piano and my father sang in the company choir. Like them, I loved music, if not exclusively of the classical variety. My first major expenditure in life had indeed been the purchase of a RCA Victor record gramophone, bought with the carefully saved proceeds of a meagre weekly allowance and part time work as a newspaper delivery boy, and also delivering clothes from a dry cleaning establishment. Yes, there used to be delivery services for such when I was a tad!

Nonetheless my only direct experience with music up to this time had been to sing in the church choir, and in fact at one time I was the lead boy soprano before testosterone discovered me. Lest anybody think that I sang in the choir from love of such or as some manifestation of religious devotion, the truth is somewhat less elevating in nature. I sang in the choir to get out of going to church with my mother. She a devout Church of England Protestant and he a Scottish Presbyterian, Mom was as enthusiastic a church attender as my father was not, except when Masonic ritual demanded it, a hypocrisy that was of no small annoyance to my mother. The hypocrisy I resented however was not tied to Masonic ritual at the expense of church attendance. For reasons I suspect took some of the heat away from my father, he ruled that my weekly Sunday church attendance directly with my mother, or by way of the choir, must serve as an inviolate prerequisite to my enjoying life doing what I really wanted to do the rest of the day or even the rest of the week.

So initially to church I went every Sunday but with an anticipation that bordered on dread. For a young lad, being embarrassed by one's parents may be part of the ritual of growing up, but at the time it is an agony that seems worse than death or even extra homework. I have never known anyone who has not suffered this juvenile indignity, sometimes even right through to retirement. In my case, the cause of a sweat-raising, cringing, where-can-I-find-a-hole-to-escape-into state was my mother's singing. Amongst a church attendance of perhaps three hundred souls, my mother's voice, raised in hymnal bliss, could be heard above all others, and sometimes above even the choir itself, situated a hundred feet or so away, or at least that is what it seemed to me. She should have been a Baptist! True, sometimes someone in an adjoining pew or farther along ours might glance at Mom in curiosity. To me however, the entire world was staring at us and I wanted to die. In desperation my only solution seemed to be to maybe run away and join the Foreign Legion but I had already spent my allowance that week so I joined the choir instead.

Not a perfect solution it was by any means, but since I had to be in church anyway, it seemed the best way to escape the weekly gross embarrassment my exceedingly juvenile self thought was fact rather than the fallacy it actually was. My choir career lasted until my voice broke and croaking was not considered to be a contribution of significant choral merit.

It was with that less than sterling musical background that I took up the violin. Looking back on it now, being ten years of age was a time in life in which a theoretical graduation had been made from babyhood towards pending entry into a teenage period eagerly anticipated by everyone except parents. In the meantime we were mostly a bunch of useless, smart ass, precocious pain in the butts to all and sundry. And so it was when the music teacher entered the class and inquired as to who might be interested in taking up the violin, said useless smart asses did our wink, wink, nudge, nudge routine and raised our hands in answer. Who knows why; maybe it was to escape some other educational horror we imagined might be inflicted on us, or that it would be 'fun' and "maybe we could be a 'band' or somethin'." Go figure!

And why the violin one might ask? Like the mountaineer who is asked why he climbs a mountain……."because it is there." I suspect that if we had had the opportunity to take up the guitar or to take trumpet lessons, the response would have been the same, although the latter may not have been particularly well received by parents. Regrettably, I often speculate if I had had the similar opportunity to take up the guitar, a life-long favourite instrument, whether my life might have taken a different turn, or at least whether I might today still be playing that instrument with a high level of competence rather than having abandoned the violin nearly fifty years ago.

Nonetheless within weeks, along with my friend and then classmate Walter, I was the only remaining member of the "band." I'm not sure why. My father had quickly instituted a rule that if I was going to undertake something like the violin I was going to do it properly or not at all. This meant practicing a minimum of one hour a day, seven days a week! Bloody hell! That's at least seven hours of fun removed from my life every week. But somehow I persisted and came to tolerate this inconvenience to my life. I am not sure whether it was the challenge that it presented and to which I was loathe undergoing defeat, or whether it became apparent that I was a fairly apt student of the instrument. The school violin on loan was soon returned and a used but good violin purchased for me by one of those close family friends known to kids as "uncle" or "aunt." Group lessons at school were abandoned in favour of weekly private lessons by the same teacher who had started it all and who was to play a close and ongoing role over the balance of my violin career.

to be continued

Copyright © 2014 Ian de W. Semple

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