Sunday, October 02, 2011

4 last songs

On Friday, coming out the Traverse, I saw a poster for tonight's concert. Donald Runnicles conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony in Strauss' Four Last Songs. I didn't understand the impulse, but followed it, and bought a ticket.

I'd thought of inviting friends; but again, not really understanding why, ended up going alone.

Sitting in the stalls tonight, waiting for the concert to begin, it was maybe the anticipatory buzz of the audience triggered a memory. Of being a schoolboy of fifteen, maybe sixteen, and sitting in the balcony of the Colston Hall.

One of the many many gifts given me by one of the assistant housemasters, a man I knew as Mr. Tomes, is that he organised outings to concerts.

The school functioned a bit like a prison; most of town counted as "out of bounds" but on concert nights the rules were relaxed and I could travel down to the concert hall alone.

I so loved that sense of freedom.

Life in the boarding school was designed to deprive us of solitude. Privacy was impossible; and the fact we were at each other's mercy was a powerful way of enforcing conformity.

I always escaped as much as I could. And sitting in the concert hall, or the theatre, I could be on my own. And that in itself helped me to survive.

I didn't want to talk to anybody, either before or after: the music opened up some precious space inside me which talking to people spoilt.

Maybe that was what I was after tonight.

Whatever it was, the music seemed to enter me without any guards or barriers: Beethoven's fierce longing for freedom, the incredibly rich chaotic, tender, and noble turbulence of an Elgar symphony.

I was awkwardly placed for the songs: I should have been more central, and further back. But what I did get was a profoundly moving sense of someone utterly rapt up in life's beauty and yet somehow also utterly ready to leave it.

It's a kind of model. Of how to die well: but how to live well too.


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