Tag Archives: music

Nanowrimo day 11. A silver clarinet and a grade 8 certificate circa 1978.

Many students who enter these exams have taken a course of music lessons with a private tutor, although some are self-taught. Often this is a way for children to receive music training over and above what is provided at their usual place of learning, although private lessons are also popular with adults who turn to music later in life.


Music exams are set in both theory and practical aspects. The theory examinations are taken by pupils of all instruments and typically cover areas such as musical notation, construction of scales and composition.


The practical exams concentrate on the particular instrument favoured by the pupil, for example piano, guitar or flute. They cover elements such as playing set pieces, technical work including scales, sight reading, aural, musical knowledge and improvisation.


In the United Kingdom the music exams are graded from 1 to 8, with Grade 1 being the entry level, and Grade 8 being the standard required for entry to higher study in a music college. Additionally, Trinity College London offers an Initial level qualification at Entry Level 3 of the UK Qualifications and Credit Framework, and ABRSM offer a Prep Test qualification as a useful preparation before the Grade 1 exam. LCM offers two Step exams at this level and VCM offers four Introductory grades aimed at those in the first 18 months of learning.


The clarinet used to live in its little leather case on a shelf in her teenage years bedroom, nestled next to her unabridged Oxford English Dictionary, Her thesaurus and from age 15 onwards a beautifully colour coded revision guide, which often took so long to execute that there was little time left actual revision, but the ritual of preparation was all, stood in for actual revision, made her feel as if she was taking some control.

But the clarinet was different, there was no need to put rules of practise up, no need to set a timetable, playing the clarinet was itself enough reward.

She could and would play for hours, her body twisting around the notes, moving at one with the sounds, lost in the music.


And of course, with this level of commitment came exam success, lots of success, grade 1,2,3 on so on and so on. The certificates carefully framed, climbing up the wall, notes and scales nailed, techniques captured, a personal history of skill, of practise, of achievement.

On occasions, she found her mother simply standing there, a duster in hand, looking up at the framed music grades, her lips moving while she read the words, her fingers pressed against the glass.

They would smile, a little awkwardly and then her mother would go for cliché 27

” well, this isn’t getting anything done ”

Cliche 35

” here I am wool gathering away”

Cliche 58

” heavens, I really need to get on”

Sometimes the girl wonders what would happen if she put out a hand, stopped her mother leaving, halted the constant cycle of cleaning and cooking and clichés and asked her what she was actually thinking about when she stood looking up the proof of her daughters’ unexpected, unasked for musical prowess.


Over their evening meal she feels their eyes on her, her mum and dad, watching her carefully, hardly daring to breathe, the very look she will wear herself in the future, in her future as she stares at baby elephants and Komodo dragons and rare, rare butterflies on expensive, glossy as the brochure holidays.

She knows her parents are confused by her, not the intelligence, they are, after all, perfectly smart people themselves with drive and ambition to see her better than them, more successful, a fuller life, but, it’s the music that puzzles them, not the music itself, they are children of the 50s and 60s, have bought LPs, been to concerts, have favourite musicians, it is the actual making of music, the idea that someone, their daughter, could learn to make tunes, string notes together, look at a page of dots and dashes and decode them into the music they hear on TV adverts. This is what puzzles them, this is what seems so hard to understand, this is what makes them shakes their heads, wonder out loud where the talent came from.


She remembers her first music lessons, a 5-year-old who chose the clarinet on the basis that it had such a neat little case and was at a scale for her to manage and not feel dwarfed by.

Her mother was pleased, she had dreaded the violin, the screeching of strings in pain or a piano, a trombone or God forbid,  a harp. Items that would fill the house, not with sound but their very physicality, a harp would take over the sitting room,ma trombone would only be playable on the upstairs landing.


And of course, it is the era of James Galway, he of the golden flute, the catchy tunes, a clarinet isn’t  a flute, but it’s close enough and seems quiet ,containable, another tick in the box labelled ” stuff we do that our parents didn’t do with us”, alongside, ballet, swimming and Brownies.


At first she approached the clarinet, the weekly music lesson in the same slightly distracted but compliant way that she met every new activity her parents presented her with.

It’s not as if she actively disliked anything, but really she was perfectly happy drawing, painting, inventing complex social stories for her large box of plastic jungle and farm animals.


But, the clarinet is different, she quickly understands that this is a solitary skill, something she will always be able to turn to. It is not a secret, not really, but practise, repetition, scales played up and down hour after hour create a space which no one tries to fill with anything else and its only when she creates this space that she realised how desperately she wanted this secret, almost secret time.


And, it’s easy, the clarinet is not difficult. Something she would never admit to her parents or even the procession of music teachers she worked with over the years, making music, moving her fingers in the prescribed ways to create the notes is not hard.

Compared to her painting which never really feels under her control, even when she does exactly the same, day after day, there is no guarantee that the work will be the same, no guarantee that today she will be able to create what she managed to create yesterday.


She works her way through the grades, the music becomes more challenging, practise takes up more time, other children drop by the wayside, worn out by school and music and guides and fencing and drama club and….and…..and.


But she stayed with it, sailed through grades 6 and 7 and then she is facing grade 8, the final music exam, after this there is only real music, college, possibly a professional career.

Other people, parents, teachers, music teachers, youth orchestra leaders are keen, suggest several colleges that she could audition at, only she knew that she wouldn’t , couldn’t, shouldn’t.


Even at 17 or 18 she knew herself, knew that her nature was not completest, that in adult life she would drift, easily distracted, perennially enthusiast but often falling away.

But this, this solid achievement, grade 8 in the clarinet,  is proof that she can, in fact has, stuck with something, seen it out.


The clarinet stays with her, is sometimes played, but as an adult she has less need to create secret     and safe places to hide in and besides that, she knows that this achievement doesn’t really count, doesn’t really signify. It’s nothing compared to heroic and often failed battles to control paint, shade and line.


Music is simply about following rules and practicing until the rule becomes second nature, a collection of lucky genes, the right shaped fingers and lungs have allowed this to happen.


The clarinet mostly lives under her bed now, occasionally taken out when a guest remembers that she has musical talent, but generally it gathers dust, but cannot be thrown out.


The certificates, on the other hand, are filed carefully in the grey box of important stuff, the box she will rescue in the case of a sudden house fire.


She’s really not quite sure what this says about her and has decided that it’s simply part of her internal mapping, as little worth questioning as the geography of her home town.

The last Ping! Of 2013

So, 27th December 2013 and the traditional post Christmas Ping! cornucopia of music, performance, poetry and more……
If you live in Leicestershire and love/are faintly curious about spoken word events and fancy a very supportive environment to try your hand at reading your work to audience…..come and check it out.
The last Tuesday of every month @ Duffys Bar on Pocklingtons Walk in the city centre.
This may or may not be a selling point…..but you can usually hear rubiesandduels read something.

And some ( sadly not great quality ) pics from the post Christmas evening….an evening that celebrated queer culture, metro-sexuality, traditional Indian music, jazz and the spoken word.






The eternal, ever giving, fun loving clowns hit town…..again

This story was suggested to me by a friend, who sent me HIS short story about a clown sentenced to perform, day after day to the children waiting to enter the gas chambers and some how I began to think about a group of clowns,acting outside of time and space whenever children are in pain or peril.

So, thank you to S, for such generous sharing of the eternal clown.

The flan hits the face again, perfect shot and then a pause,
Count 1 and 2
Tip of tongue, shocking pink against a moon white face and the clown licks at the custard covering his eyes and mouth and nose.
He begins a toilette, carefully removing the yellow glop.
The children giggle at the hopelessness of the task and then stiffen, cover their mouths with their fists, become quiet, watchful.
The big clown, completely absorbed in his task has completely failed to notice the two lesser clowns, creeping up behind him, their faces overshadowed by an insanely over-sized bucket.
They mime counting

And then they hurl the water over the oblivious clown.
He leaps into the air, face contorted with mock shock and then returns to earth, his bottom landing first and into the supposedly forgotten custard pie.

The children’s laughter almost drowns out the crump, crump of falling artillery.

And on the Kindertransport, the child’s mouth is a perfect O as she watches a clown bend and twist balloons to make a small pink and red bear. She clutches a stained and grubby stain ribbon, all that is left of her bear, dropped, left behind somewhere in the dark between trains, when the adults said that there was no time to go back to look.
The balloon bear completed, the clown leans forward and dedicatedly lifts the ribbon from her hand and wraps it around the balloon bear.
The child and clown smile carefully at each other.

The wooden boat clings to the shore and even then the movement is enough to make the children puke.
These Peters and Brigettes, sworn to liberate the Holy Land from the Infidel, wait for the journey to begins and while they wait, cold and wet and hungry, they watch the clowns, sea salt eroding the matt perfection of their clown faces, juggle elegantly with an impossible number of silk scarves.

The shack is dark, lit by one guttering candle, there are children everywhere, some almost old enough to work in the fields, others tiny, still reaching out for the mothers, but all eyes are intent on the 2 clowns performing in the least dusty corner.
It is so dark that the children are almost invisible, reduced to just gleaming teeth and glistening eye whites as they watch the clowns chase each other in tiny ever diminishing circles until they are forced to run amongst the children.
The biggest clown tries to hide, choosing the very smallest children to crouch down behind, so that he is absurdly visible, his tattered red trousers are the only patch of colour in the room.
This hiding and seeking game is unsettling some of the older children, reminding them of more deadly games played out in the cotton fields when one of the bucks, most likely a new African, turns rogue, tries to get away, get home.
The clowns notice, pull back and quickly produce an old favourite, the teeny tiny cycle.
They both clamber on, smallest clown on the shoulders of slightly less small clown and legs move madly, piston like as the bike careers into the crowds of children. The clowns clear a path, scooping up the very smallest children to take a turn at the red bicycle ride.

The room is almost silent, just the beep beep of the machines, the steady thrumm of cables and wires and at its centre, the child, still, almost invisible under the burden of leads and bags and drips.
The smallest clown sits at the foot of the bed, floppy hat flopping with the weight of pink plastic flowers.
This is no place for tomfoolery, for noise, for jolly japes.
Instead, the smallest clown, face in shadow, blowing iridescent soap bubbles.
One by one they float into the air and then, soft as a butterfly, one lands on the child’s wrist.
The clown pauses, but there is no reaction.

The clowns are processing, Russian doll figures made real, biggest, smaller, smallest.
They lope across the playground, clown shoes dip into last nights rain puddles.
They are playing kazoos but the sound is almost drowned by the screams and shouts of children as their skin burns and bubbles.
The clowns, undaunted, try to make more noise, reaching into pockets to pull out impossible instruments that cannot have been hidden in such baggy pants.
Drums, trombones, cymbals appear, the smallest clown tries to execute some business, catch the middle sized clowns’ ears between the two brass discs….but the children are weeping, reaching out for help.
The clown dog, small , brown, a little yellow ruff around his neck, trots from child to child, terrier face wrinkled in distress, a growl just held back.

The clowns regroup.
Take stock and then the biggest clown scoops up the little dog, musical instruments vanish back into hidden pockets and they walk away.


Carnival 2013 – work in progress

This is very much the first draft of something that started yesterday, watching the Caribbean Carnival parade in Leicester.
I scribbled madly in the little black notebook [ see posts past] and something is slowly taking shape.

For the first time ever, she is content today to watch the parade from the city centre, snug amongst the shoppers as dancers undulate and sound systems shake store windows.
She realizes a bridge has been crossed and that there will be no going back.
Her handbag, roomy, sensible is weighed down, not with all the essentials for a day on the park, water, king size rizlas, a book in case planned rendezvous fail, but instead a list of tasks, duties, errands, a list that threatens to engulf her whole weekend, her whole life.
And standing in the sun, she remembers carnival past, not this, this carnival light, part of a citys’ celebration of summer, but something darker, more dangerous, carnival back in the day.

1980s and all the thin white girls are dizzy with the excitement of living in the ghetto, living on the edge, not seeing that it’s not a ghetto if you can check out any time you want and carnival is when the ghetto gets out, struts its’ stuff, turns the streets a darker shade of pale.

The thin white girls have chosen outfits, put together a look with care, walked past the hairdressers, windows steaming while hair is pressed and straightened and beaded and wrapped into impossible perfection and every year, the thin white girls pause and wonder if this time they are brave enough to push the door, enter this place of other women and every year, decide that they are not.

And the woman, now, standing, toe tapping in an understated way remembers other carnivals, other days.

Pre parties, post parties, in clubs with toilets so hostile that the thin white girls went in groups, all the better to ward off the fish eyes, the teeth kissing, the sly elbow when lipstick was re-applied. Punishment for crimes they didn’t then recognise.

And on carnival day itself, always on a float, hips gyrating to that white noise, the un-music when 3 sound systems clash, collide, create something new and the thin white girls stare out at the crowds, when simply being here is a statement of something.
White girls dancing to the black boys’ beat

The procession is always late, joyously, unashamedly, late, running on island time and the thin white girls try not the check their watches, try not to be uptight and the floats scoop up small children, dance troop members who have run out of steam, clutching cans of mango rubicon. Plimsoled feet banging against the sides of rented trucks.
And at the side, those other white girls, hair pulled back so tight, their faces seem frozen until they look down at the newest baby in the latest buggy and something melts.
Those sleeping babies, be-ribboned, hair plaited, corn rowed, just so, perfect.
And at the park, these girls, these other white girls, walk tall, own the space, 20 silk cut and a can of red stripe a barrier against those sideways glances, those sucked in cheeks.

The thin white girls are listening to Aba Shanti, base so deep the ground vibrates and every bone in their boney bodies hums and sitting still is not an option.

Other memories;

The belated realization that the neighbors’ goat is not a pet, but is destined for its’ own starring role at carnival, cooked slowly, curried in a pot so huge it can only have escaped from a fairy tale and the local dogs, nascent street pack, hang around, waiting for inevitable spillage from inadequate paper plates.

The sudden entrepreneurship of men who seem to have spent the year nailed to the bookies windows, black bins swilled, filled with ice and cans of beer and those tiny bottles of sweet white wine, something for the ladies.

The white boy, head bent over decks, trainee dredlocks bouncing to the beat and he goes to change the tune, but the crowd is having none of it.
Re-wind DJ, Rewind, so he does and the thin white girls are dancing on ankles so fragile that they must snap at any moment.

Jump around
Jump up Jump up and get down.

And Sunday morning, when the whole world seems to be lieing in and the thin white girls are in bed, somebody’s bed and the only sounds are whistles still being blown by children who went to bed wearing them.

The Present

The woman, shoulders her bag, check her watch, moves off and as she walks, her hips just move to the rythmn of the final sound system, for just a step or two.

And later, in her garden, in that lull,post shopping, pre dinner, she notices that the clematis needs attention, but instead unearths a long forgotten CD, Chakademus and Pliers and plays it as loudly as is seemly in her quiet neighborhood.


V, W & X

V is for Vintage

Her daughters’ clothes puzzle her, enourous, bagy 80s jumpers, some with shoulder pads.
Tie -dyed t-shirts with rave slogans and mad smiley faces.
Army boots, black, scufed, the laces replaced with pale pink ribbons.
Silver wedge sandals, they leave a trail of glitter as she stopms up the stairs.
Prom dresses, imported as emormous expense from specialist web sites, worn, not for parties, mixers, hops, but to the corner shop, the park and ocassionally to sleep in.

W is for Waking

Every morning when I wake, i am horrified that the night has already gone, that sleep is over, that another day is ready to begin.
i bargain with the dieties of early morningness – just 5 more minutes, just another 5……..
I calculate complicated mathematics in my head – if i get up in 10, 15, 20 minutes, I can still walk the dog, feed the cat, skip the shower, make up at work, eat later.
There is a second, a pause and then shake like a dog, feet on floor, head hits knees, the last moment of denial [ be careful here, its all to easy to reverse the process at this point] and then up.
The secret is movemment, constant movement.
Corridor, bathroom, bedroom , stairs, kitchen, pets, coat, bag, keys and out.

X is for X-Ray Specks

Polly Styrene – almost prety, a diva for the unconfident, I wanted your hat so much it almost hurt, but had just enough sense to know that i would be even more inane than usual, so bought a army greatcoat instead

The remaining minutes left for this story were used up in watching this instead,