Music is one of my big loves and it’s been given added richness by my many years with Helen. My family brought a “harmonium” (a pedal organ) with them from the Netherlands, and like many Reformed Church families we sang psalms and hymns around this organ on Sunday evenings, with Mum playing the melodies. But apart from this, our family’s migration during my early years restricted what my parents were able to give us in the way of music education.
However, as soon as they could and just 8 years after the big move to Australia, my parents were able to involve their children in buying a “radiogram” – a lounge furniture piece that included a radio and record player. After this, LP (“long playing”) vinyl recordings of the classical music repertoire became a standard birthday gift.
When Helen and I became special friends it didn’t take me long to start investing in lifting my rather basic profile as a music lover, as I used my hard-earned savings to buy LP recordings and listening to “classical” music on the radio and the family radiogram.
Helen comes from a family that is very gifted in the music area, and throughout our lives together we have done what we could to recognise and honour this: our wedding gift to each other was a restored upright piano (and we’ve had two others since then), and we were able to provide music lessons for all our children as part of their education. Each of our quartet still plays at least one instrument.
When we moved to Sydney from country Victoria we were able to become music concert subscribers, sometimes with the Sydney Symphony and many years with the Australian Opera. Our regular weekend trips from Sydney’s outer suburbs and later 80 km from Wollongong to the Sydney Opera House quickly became part of our staple diet. These outings were a welcome break from the routines and pressures of work and family life, as well as being a time of sheer indulgence (by our modest standards): dressing up for an “evening on the town”, a restaurant meal at one of our favourite addresses at Circular Quay, and finally an evening of fine and often exciting music – these times remain among our most treasured memories. Whenever we’re back in Sydney we’ll sometimes fan those flames again!
It was in our Sydney years that Helen was able to take up again another of her gifts and passions: teaching. In our 13 years in Wollongong she was able to bring her two delights together, as she taught primary school classes and conducted the annual school musical production.
During our almost 16 years in Adelaide, the school where she taught already had a strong music department, but Helen has continued to support my church work in several areas, including the music. We have continued as concert goers and often subscribers.
Last Sunday evening Helen and I went to a performance of the “People’s Messiah”. At these performances of Handel’s famous and popular oratorio, a choir and soloists do their normal work, and the audience or congregation is invited to join in singing the choruses – those who participate are encouraged to seat themselves so that they can sing their part together and aligned with the voices in the choir.
It was a very special “first” for me to be among a church-full of choristers, most of them singing those well-known and much-loved choruses with energy and enthusiasm. We were also delighted that although the members of this “congregation” were mostly senior, there were several family groups there, and that the soloists, accompanist, conductor and most of the choir were young and talented.
Following the music and part singing from the printed page brought home again what a wonderful gift to the world the Messiah has been. George Frideric Handel is not another J S Bach, but he has an attractiveness of his own: the music is both accessible and crafty, so beautifully fitted to the words of the Bible, rich and exciting.
It was so good to be part of this evening of music-making and enjoyment.