Picture this: it’s 1981 and a young girl is standing on stage at the local town hall looking out into a crowd of nearly two hundred people. It’s the inter-school music competition and she is about to participate in a recorder recital with her grade six music group. She cannot read music, memorise notes or play the recorder.
I was that girl. My navy blue cord overalls, cream skivvy and tan knee-high boots did nothing to bolster my confidence. Hardly the epitome of fashion, but it was an improvement on the patent red leather clogs and crocheted dress my mother had chosen for me. Clogs! Really? Did she not like me? We weren’t even of Dutch descent for god’s sake.
But what I was wearing didn’t matter, because unlike The Spice Girls, fashion was not going to give me any musical ability. As I stood on the stage, our teacher, Mrs Gillespie proudly fussed over us and the only thought making the short journey across my mind was: ‘how the hell did I get here?’
I’m tipping that my mother had something to do with it. She always had a love of music that she projected, vicariously and forcefully, on to me. I would have welcomed a cold sore with more warmth and enthusiasm. The only interest I had in music was to marry John Taylor from Duran Duran when I grew up. Or Simon LeBon, but only to make John jealous.
My brain was so paralysed with fear that it didn’t even occur to me to take the easy way out –to burst into tears and run away. Or feign illness and double over in pain, dry retch, pretend to pass out, fake a snake bite. No. Nothing like that even entered my mind. Damn it. My best friend, Lea, was standing next to me. Not only was she fashionable, popular and smart, but she could actually play the recorder. I envied her for a lot of things, but her musical ability topped the list right at that moment.
Mrs Gillespie tapped her stick on the podium and flicked her long blonde hair. I bought the recorder to my mouth, only to remember that it had a small lump of chocolate wedged in the mouth piece. I had forgotten the cardinal rule of recorder playing – do not play when you have food in your mouth. I had tried rinsing it in hot water, but only burned my fingers. Boiling water was beyond me at that age and I couldn’t seek help from my mum seeing as it was her chocolate that I had stolen in the first place.
Like horses out of the gate on race day, we were off. The ear piercing, brain dividing sound of twenty recorders assaulted the audience head on. From where I was standing I could see the curious expression of pride and pain on their faces; pride at watching their kid play, and pain at having to listen to it.
The sound was strong, confident, happy; all except for mine, which warbled like a shy kettle – a pathetic wail that must have been heard by the audience because it was a completely different sound to every other recorder. If it were possible for a recorder to have an Asthmatic wheeze, then mine did. It wasn’t a case of not blowing hard enough, it was that, in the claws of fear, I had forgotten how to breathe. I also played the same note for the entire recital – two songs in C.
At the end of the recital the music teacher’s husband, Mr Gillespie, shook each and every little hand of the group as he enthused, “Excellent! Excellent!” My mum and step-dad were so proud that I didn’t have the heart to tell them what really happened.
Consequently, the next year, my first year of secondary school, my mother enrolled me in Flute lessons. She had always wanted to play the flute. I, on the other hand, had no interest in playing an instrument that I had to spit into. It was a long year, but thankfully, puberty hit me and I turned into a snarling horror who didn’t give a toss about hurting my mum’s feelings. It was then that I finally told her what I really thought of music lessons.