Friday, 10 December 2010
This early snow has certainly been a major inconvenience and has made thousands of us very angry and upset at the difficulties it has caused. On the other hand, it is also heart-warming to see people helping each other out so magnanimously. Thousands of people have set off early, stayed late, or not gone home at all. Shopping has been fetched, meals delivered. The drivers of 4x4s, spurned like uncaring vermin when there is no snow, have become the heroes of the hour, taking essential staff to their work places, ensuring appointments can be kept, and transporting the vulnerable to safety. Strangers have leapt to the aid of struggling vehicles, hot food and drinks have been handed out to stranded travellers, snow-clearing gangs have gathered together to work more efficiently, and extra phone-calls and visits have been made to check people are alright. There’s a twang of ‘Spirit of the Blitz’ in the air this festive season, which seems remarkably appropriate.
Personally speaking, the scariest thing I have had to do sent me into a state of shock from which I am only just recovering. A phone-call came through from school...the Christmas show must go on, there’s a shortage of staff, the snow has scuppered rehearsals, it’ll only be a wee bit, we really, really, really need a pianist, can I help?
So with less than 24 hours notice, I found myself sitting at a piano with an audience of 300 somewhere behind me, about 30 children on the stage above me, madly peering at several unruly pages of music in a desperate effort to play several ABBA songs. How on earth I manage to get myself embroiled into these idiotic situations is a total mystery. But panic had set in, a pianist was urgently required, I am a mug, and nobody else could deliver.
Have you ever tried to play ABBA? With little advanced warning? For dozens of small children’s voices? At short notice? In the dark? (someone needs to invent fluorescent scores for all musicals/pantos or all piano players will soon be blind). Naturally everyone knows ABBA like the back of their tonsils, but Benny and Bjorn were both masterly and dastardly in their melodic construction. What may sound easy and familiar is in fact awash with ingenious complexity....a maelstrom of gymnastic jumps and jives around the keyboard, rapid falling sixths, unexpected tonic variations, subtle changes of key and fiendish twiddly bits. And it’s all so flaming FAST! They don’t hang around, those Swedes. You start off at the required line in the score, and you’re away, like an out-of-control sledge, your fingers bashing around in the darkness, feverishly hoping you might land on the right note somewhere near THE END.
When I reached THE END you could probably have heard my sigh of relief in Svalbard. Immense. Immense it was, and probably visible, even in the darkness. Duty had been done and the thing hadn’t fallen apart, which, in the circumstances, was about all one could hope for. The audience actually applauded, which was a plus, but I expect they felt they should as there were children involved.
With a little help from my friends, who wheeched me off to the local for a modest libation, I am in recovery now. As I sipped a gluwein in the snow, relieved that my paltry efforts were over for the day, I mused on the extraordinary ways in which people contribute to society when adverse circumstances conspire to require them to do so.
It is rather a leap to go from piano playing and snow shovelling to the winning of the Nobel Peace Prize, but as the award ceremony in Oslo has taken place today, I have to pay homage. The winner, the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, was absent due to his imprisonment in an isolated cell in North East China. Seeing his empty chair in Oslo is extraordinarily poignant, a visual statement of what it can mean to contribute to ‘The Common Weel’ as we call it in Scotland. Few of us are that brave, and few of us could ever go as far as he has gone in seeking peace and freedom for others. But it seems the least we can do is pause for thought, reflect upon what we can do within our own, individual sphere of influence. To make a contribution still seems to be worthwhile.
NB: If you are anywhere near this house, please approach with caution and a decent set of ear plugs...there is an infernal racket going on at the piano.
Posted by Returning Scot at 18:43