(N.B. I am well aware that the photos in this post don’t really relate to the scene described, but I had to take the photos on a separate day and, obviously, tide times change!)
I have been home for over a week now, and the other day I told my Mum that I’m glad I came home. Okay, the last week hasn’t been good in the normal sense, but whilst there is no one in Cardiff there are things here that aren’t there, and other things that are never there.
The big one is the sea. Yes, I have Cardiff Bay, but it just isn’t quite the same as going to the sea. And to get there you do have the slight fuss of having to get two train services (no matter how short they are). Last Sunday evening we went for a walk over the beach (at my request) and it could not have been more perfect. The tide was all the way up, the waves were huge and it was satisfyingly windy. I generally try not to conform to clichés, but I did go for a slightly tempestuous stomp over the beach. I also attempted to skim stones (I used to be able to, but the knack seems to have abandoned me) and when this failed resorted to finding the largest rocks possible and throwing them into the water.
So much about this is therapeutic. Not just the act of lobbing heavy things at a recipient who can’t complain, but the return to my childhood. We used to walk over the beach all the time, with my Grandma, with the dogs, with my Dad before he left. It’s a part of my life that has been on the back-burner since I moved to Cardiff (I won’t say lost because it isn’t – as this excursion proves, I can still come back) and coming back to it is always wonderful. Especially this time, and it feels like it is really helping me.
The other good thing that has come out of this is a kick-start back into my academic reading. Starting masters this month and so far this summer I’d managed to read about a quarter of a book! There were a couple of days in the library where I did some serious Schenker, but other than that I’d been attempting to read Philip Ball’s The Music Instinct: How music works and why we can’t do without it. It was going to be a struggle from the start because he references John Blacking’s How Musical is Man on the first page. Many of my friends and myself remember this from first year Ethnomusicology and shudder. Here is not the place, but you just mention ‘music is dance, dance is music’ to a lot of people that I know and you can see them die a little inside. One friend with similar interests and views to me responded ‘Kill it. Kill it with fire’ when I mentioned the Blacking quotation. But I need to expand my general reading! I’m really good at doing loads of specific reading for a topic, but it can cause trouble if you miss a more general point, so I’ve been trying to read more generally.
This idea has actually gone out of the window this week. At the beginning of the summer I bought a new book, out for the Britten centenary, Neil Powell’s Benjamin Britten: A Life for Music. After studying Beethoven for my undergrad dissertation, I am determined to do something different, and the other composer that really stood out to me over the course of the three years was Britten. I may not even continue with any study of him, but after writing a ridiculous essay about the tonal structure of The Turn of the Screw (Oh my days, it is genius!) and gaining an insight into the cleverness of the music I wanted to know more about him. No, cleverness is not everything, but in Britten I find this combined with the fact that the music is highly listenable absolutely stunning. My Nan also tipped me off a year or so ago about a programme on BBC4 talking about the cellist Rostropovich and I ended up in absolute rapture when half the programme turned out to concern both him and Britten because he wrote the suites and the Cello Symphony with Rostro in mind.
Sorry, I’m getting very, very carried away!
Anyway. This book is more of a biography, and I have been reading it since the night I got dumped (when I couldn’t sleep I was reading it in bed. I woke up with the book tucked up next to me, with the duvet up to Britten’s chin. Issues). When I started this book a few weeks ago it took me about an hour to read 10 pages. I am now flying through it, noting down any really big facts and also anything to do with Rostro and the Cello Symphony (I like studying cello works, I am determined to see if there is something I can do about it!). Once I’ve finished it I will finish the other book because it’s from the local library and I am stubborn. I already owe a 13p fine on it. And it will hopefully prevent me from buying another book that’s coming out. At £30 I’m not sure I can justify it. But it has an essay dedicated to the Rostropovich works!
Yes, I am a massive nerd. It is the primary reason I am putting myself through another year of this! When I go in to talk to people about my masters they generally track forward onto ‘my PhD’. Scary as.
What my inner geek has enjoyed about this week are the echoes between these two interests. Whilst I have enjoyed coming back to the sea, it was the Suffolk coast that Britten returned to throughout his life and the sea that features so heavily in his works. I am not claiming some weird affinity with Britten; that would be self absorbed nonsense. I just delight in reading about the one and at least being able to have a glimpse of the sentiment.
I will be back and may attempt to be less geeky. But I can make no promises as I have been listening to Dvorak’s Symphonies – my happy music. I haven’t set a time limit, but I am trying to listen to them all. When I really get down to stuff, if I need general listening rather than specifics, I will attempt to listen to ‘the complete Symphonies of x’ over the course of a weekend. My most impressive conquest to date was Mahler, but I did have to start on Thursday evening and listen to him every hour of the day!