The Summer of ‘78
I was driving into Gloucester yesterday and choosing not to listen to a programme about rhino poaching, I switched to a different channel and was immediately transported to another time, another place – another life! Suddenly, in my mind, I wasn’t driving down the Cotswold edge but I was somewhere in Northern Germany; in Ostholstein to be precise, travelling with the Isle of Wight Youth Orchestra who were playing a series of concerts. The programme included Tchaikovsky's 2nd Symphony and as I hummed along to the radio I was back there in the orchestra.
In July 1978, I’d just completed my first year of teaching science in a middle school on the Island and had allowed myself to be persuaded to work with the Junior Orchestra every Saturday. One of the delights (and a huge contrast to the rest of my working week) was that whenever I lifted my baton, twenty or thirty small faces would look up and obey my every move! Well, I’m not sure they did, but at the time it was a pretty interesting experience, I can tell you
Anyway, two weeks before the big Youth Orchestra was due to leave for a tour of the Isle of Wight’s twin county in Germany, someone discovered they were short of a female member of staff and I didn’t need to be asked twice if I’d like to go along. That I could speak pretty fluent German and could earn my keep as an additional violinist probably counted in my favour as well. All rather last minute, but I was unattached and fancy free – what was to lose?
We had a great time and the tour was a great success. But as I listened to the symphony on the radio it didn’t prompt the usual sheet of music memory which is generally imprinted on my brain following weeks of practice – probably because I didn’t have that experience in that particular case. I couldn’t picture any of the concert halls or indeed, remember much of the rest of the programme. Instead, I found myself listening for the sound of a gong: a somewhat strange memory to associate with all of that, but sure enough, as I waited at the traffic lights, almost at my destination, there it was.
If ever you travelled with a bunch of excited youngsters and their assorted “stuff”, their instruments and other essential paraphernalia like music (!) on a two week tour of maybe five different venues in a foreign country, then perhaps you’d know why the principal picture which came into my mind as I heard that particular symphony was of a small boy carrying a huge gong. Because, bless him, he carried that blooming gong for the whole of those two weeks for that single note! I’d like to think that Tchaikovsky was smiling as he included that essential feature in his work, or that maybe he’s looked on with amusement as orchestras around the world have schlepped the most unwieldy of instruments to far flung concert halls for a single moment of glory.
The whole symphony is on YouTube (of course), not played by the Isle of Wight Youth Orchestra of 1978 sadly and the moment of which I write occurs at around the 34 minute mark.
So there we are, the Summer of ‘78.
Well, it didn’t finish there, did it, because within a week of returning home I’d met my hero; we’d become better acquainted over the last two weeks of the school holidays and I returned to the Isle of Wight very reluctantly indeed. By half term, we were engaged and the rest is history!
Cue Barry Manilow?