‘Lacrima et Musica’ (tears and music)
Are tears at weddings just a Mumsy thing?
You should be able to hear the march I wrote for my daughter’s wedding.
Originally published on November 19, 2004 in Non-Fiction
Musical composition is not just for the likes of Mozart, Wagner, Elgar et al, believe me it is possible for anybody to compose with some determination.
Firstly it is not overly difficult; maybe I had a head start because I have always loved classical music, but it is within the reach of anyone who is capable of creating a tune in their heads. I must tell you now that I have never had any musical training whatsoever. I would have dearly loved to have had the opportunity to learn the piano, however being brought up during a war, with everything in turmoil, it was not possible.
We didn’t have music lessons at school in those days, so I left school with no knowledge of music whatsoever. Since then throughout my working life I have come to love music, mainly classical. I always seemed to have a tune in my head, and it was about six years ago, that I began to think that maybe I could somehow get the music down on paper.
Delius managed this in his later life of course when he was no longer able to write; he had a friend as his amanuensis, one Eric Fenby. He wrote some tremendous music with this arrangement. Some other well known composers have used this method of composition also, including Liszt, Handel and Mozart. Unfortunately there was to be no amanuensis for me. Nevertheless I persisted, I knew of course of the musical letters, I suppose everyone knows that much, but it occurred to me that if I could transpose the letter notation into musical notation, I could be nearly there. So off to the library, where I found a book on musical theory and notation. This book told me everything that I needed to know, note lengths, speed, how to denote level of sound, etc.
Now I needed a keyboard; to start with I bought a simple Yamaha, some manuscript paper, and then waiting for inspiration. I managed to get my music down on a tape recorder. So far so good, at this stage any decent amanuensis, could have taken over, but I am afraid it was to be the hard route for me. After work and evening meal, my musical work would start. First getting the audio down into letter notation. With the help of the keyboard this was relatively easy, it got more difficult changing the letter notation into musical notation, but I did it. I didn’t know what key my music was in until I had finished transposing it. I taught myself to play the keyboard, well enough to be able to play my compositions.
Next I had to find out if a musician could understand and play what I had written. The first two people I approached (both church organists) didn’t want to know, they were patronising. I am sure they thought I was an idiot. However one Sunday morning our normal organist was not at church, and a young man from London was playing (he was on holiday and it had been arranged that he could play for us) this guy was amazing he produced sounds we had never heard before. After the service instead of leaving the church, everyone stayed seated to hear his final piece, then quite unusual in a church, there was spontaneous applause. I said to my wife, “That’s the guy who will play my music” she told me not to be so stupid, and threatened me not to ask him. Well I don’t like being threatened, and when the guy who I now know as Trevor Dawson, had finished at the organ, I went up to him introduced myself, told him how brilliant he was – then hit him with my request.
Trevor said he would be delighted to help, we arranged to meet in church the following Tuesday. I brought some recording equipment; my eldest daughter came along to help with the recording and setting up. We finished setting up then waited in anticipation. I was just doing a bit of improvisation on the church organ checking the sound levels when Trevor walked in. I presented him with my music, which he had not seen before. Remember this music had not been written for church organ, so Trevor had to add the appropriate chords and pedal details. We were soon ready to start.
I had given him four pieces to play. Unfortunately the primary recording system overloaded and was distorted, however we were running a secondary system and so captured the recordings reasonably well. I couldn’t believe what I had on tape. Trevor’s interpretation of my music was superb. My mother died shortly after these recordings, and this music was played as the introit and recessional music at her funeral. I subsequently went on to write the wedding march for my youngest daughters wedding.
Now – walking down the aisle with a full church and a beautiful daughter on one’s arm is moving enough, however when the organist burst forth with the wedding march that I had composed? It was all too much. When we arrived at the altar my face was wet through. I don’t know if the vicar’s glance at me was one of shame or pity. I managed to compose myself until the first hymn – but certain hymns have a devastating effect on me under normal conditions; why I chose the three hymns that always screwed me up, I still don’t know – but I did, and they did. More strange glances from the vicar.
During the service the vicar made an announcement that I had written the wedding march, and I had to stand for a round of applause. My daughter still tells this story and has people laughing, she says I must be the only father to receive a standing ovation at his daughter’s wedding. Later at the reception, I am glad to say that things returned to normal, when I reached into my sporran for the notes for my speech – of course they were missing…
If only I could afford an amanuensis…