Monday, 23 November 2015

Finding The Awen Part Two

‘If Music Be The Food Of Love?’

On the first night of my first Charney in July, Ruth, Tortie and John were asked to select the three books they would take to their desert island. They were also asked to select one piece of music. As a person somewhat shamefully ill versed in children’s books, (see final placing of our team in Charney Quiz Night),  I ended up thinking more about the music I would choose.

We must have all mulled over the equivalent of our eight gramophone records and had tremendous difficulty whittling them down to eight. However I suspect that the world is divided into those who do and don’t appreciate music and those like me, who simply couldn’t exist without it. 

I was brought up in a household where we only really listened to classical music. Apart from occasional excursions into the world of easy listening with the likes of Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass, (aaargh) and records of children’s favourites like Thunderbirds, we were resolutely classical with a large C. I do remember Eye Level - the theme from Van Der Valk by the Simon Park Orchestra once sneaking past the guards but, apart from a slight slackening of the regime when my sister and I were allowed to watch the Christmas Top of The Pops on the portable in the “other room’, we got to hear very little else.

'ome milady'

The reason for this was simply that my dad didn’t want to listen to things he didn’t like. (Mum just put radio 2 on every morning when he was at work). They had met at a Grimsby Operatic Society and continued to sing in local choral societies until they moved to Somerset several years ago. My mum was a well known amateur soprano who could well have turned professional if she hadn’t had us. My parents still have in their possession, a programme of The Messiah, where mum is the soprano soloist and the later to be Dame Janet Baker is merely in the chorus!

Maybe I should have fought against classical music but instead I came to love and embrace it with a warmth and trust which has never left me. As a ten year old I got up on one of the dining chairs and conducted Bach or Tchaikovsky to my heart’s content. I sang in schools choirs and played flute in school and the local youth orchestra and of course I played a lot of records. At the age of seventeen my dad introduced me to Wagner and The Ring in particular. For my eighteenth birthday invitations, he did me a beautiful white chalk drawing on black of Siegfried breaking the Wanderer/Wotan’s spear. I must have been the only eighteen year old to receive the triple live album Yessongs from his mates and Karajan’s ring cycle from my parents!

Thomas Stewart as Wotan/Wanderer in a rehearsal photo from St Francisco Opera' s production of Siegfried in the Ring Summer Festival of 1985

This post however is not all about my early grounding in the music that I still love, but about how it has continued to inspire and accompany my writing. As I write this blog I am listening to Karajan’s (him again!) classic recording of Mozart’s Magic Flute and before that Simon Keenlyside singing of Schumann songs; my current passion. Music is always with me and normally I I cannot write without it. The book I completed a few months ago was variously accompanied by Dvorak symphonies, Brahms piano concertos and Bach’s Mass in B Minor. I have had many happy creative moments with Tchaikovsky, Smetana’s Ma Vlast and of course Wagner.

I have however an awen composer, one guaranteed to get both my creative and spiritual juices flowing. Such a composer is Vaughan Williams and I am returning the compliment by writing a novel about him. It would not be exaggerating to say that without him there would probably not have been any writing in the last however many years. My book The Seven was written almost entirely to his symphonies number 3 and 5 and some of the most profound and sometimes sad moments in my life have been accompaniment by the final 'passacaglia' movement of the fifth. Writing ‘The Enchantment of Mr Williams’ I have had several pieces of VW as regular accompaniment but particularly Flos Campi. Donna Nobis Pacem and Sancta Civitas, That's a fair mix of an erotically charged hymn based on the Song of Songs, a war requiem, and a vision of the apocalypse.

I have also picked up some wonderful quotes while researching him. When told by a rather intense and god fearing fellow composer that ‘I wrote my requiem almost entirely on my knees’, he replied.

‘Really. I Wrote all of Sancta Civitas sitting on my bum!’

VW possibly sitting on his bum, (image thanks to

For all those intense years of listening I’ve realised in the last few months that I have hardly ever really listened to music properly It has always been either in the background  or accompanying work. What has in so many ways provided me with 'awen' has in others deprived me of listening.

Now I have a complementary experience to the former. Instead of inspirational background I can see and feel more of what is beyond.Like a Shakespeare play which you come to know as director or actor rather than simply as reader or audience member, the resonances go deeper. If you are lucky they also leave you forever changed.

So what took me so long? And how about anyone else? Is music part of your daily diet, awen to your writing, or just a blessed nuisance?


Find out more about VW and his music through the official society

The amazing archive of the long running radio show which started all the trouble!

My book, The Seven.  

My adventures in story and drama.


Penny Dolan said...

Glad that music works for you but sadly I find it almost impossible to listen to music when writing. I find the rhythm and emotions - esp the big rise and fall of much classical music - tend to fight against my words & writing. Pieces like Brian Eno's "Music For Airports" tend to fill the sound-space best.

Steve Gladwin said...

Thanks Penny. I suspect it was because the music came a long time before the serious writing but I do take your point. Having your creative head filled with space is not to everyone's taste.