An Ugly Duckling?
As many of you know, and many have commented on, my lifeblood is music and one such instance in my past ‘came to roost’ one night while attending a concert in the far north of our country, quite unexpected it gave me a thrill that has rarely been or I doubt will be ever be surpassed.
To go back to a time in my life when I was in charge of a small number of staff and had through illness of one of them requested a replacement. What I was presented with by her father one morning shortly after, was a young girl that had just left school; timid is not a strong enough word to describe her, she was terrified, so much so that she was physically shaking. I learnt afterwards her family had just moved to the area from a farm that I was told was at the back of beyond, and then some, completely isolated from the rest of the world, an only child, she attended a school whose sum total of attendance on a good day was six pupils, she being the oldest. To relate to such a life to us mere mortals takes a bit of understanding of what it must have been like for her, but I duly took her on not thinking any more about her, leaving her in, what I thought was the capable hands of the rest of my staff. It was, what must have been a couple of weeks later, by chance I overheard her being referred to in a very unkindly manner, ‘an ugly duckling’ was one such comment along with a few choice words of a kind I am not at liberty to print.
Not wanting to cause any trouble with what was normally an excellent group of workers, I made it my business to take this young lady ‘under my wing’ so to speak; I could use another pair of hands and the cause of her employment in the first place had since returned to work.
So started an episode in my life with a young girl who was well over half my age, any male that has been in that situation knows only too well the difficulties it presents but with the help of her father that I knew quite well by now, we persevered. Slowly, so agonisingly slow was our progress, but each day things started to get better and it was obvious to me her nervous disability was diminishing gradually, so much so that one day after a couple of weeks under my supervision I received a quite cheery ‘Good Morning’ from her, it was the start of something quite extraordinary.
I remember it was a breezy autumn afternoon and after bringing me my afternoon coffee I had the desire to get a bit of fresh air, so I grabbed my coat and was about to venture outside to the senior staff area when I stopped and watched my young protégé busy at her desk, how different she looked to when she first entered the building all those weeks ago, and my goodness hadn’t she become an excellent secretary.“Take a brake my dear and come and join me in the garden with your coffee” I think was how I put it. There was a reluctance, she knew it was out of bounds for the rest of the staff, and there was hesitation and a little of her nervousness showed for a brief moment, but something I suppose in my request and the way I had said it made her put aside any misgivings.
It was a windy afternoon and to put her at ease I gently raised her coat collar up round her neck and sat down wind to protect her while she drank her coffee. I can’t actually remember how the conversation started, but I remember asking what she did at night knowing there would be very few, if any, friends in the area that she knew. I remember her reply so clearly now as she turned towards me and looked me straight in the face, so confident, daring me to even smile at her answer.
“ I have my music Sir, my music is my life and always has been and I suppose always will be.”
Now, before that afternoon I was just trying to be kind, trying to coax her into the big wide world fate had it seemed unkindly thrown her into, but I’m sure my pulse missed a beet in that moment, naturally I wanted to know more of this rather sheepish little creature sitting next to me. I looked closer for the first time, beauty had missed her passing her by, the wind over the moors where she had grown up had hardened her skin, but the one true God of gifts had given her was what many in this life I have found lacking, the very love that had resided in her soul was her music that completed her life. I had to know more and we talked a language that afternoon till home time sitting there on the seat in the garden, undisturbed by the bustle of business. That shell had been broken, she opened up her soul to me, trying in her limited way to explain the joy she found when she could be alone with her violin, at night time when everyone was asleep living her dream, playing the melodies of the masters she secretly adored.
For a long time afterwards we played our respective instruments in many a duet, but if I was honest all I wanted to do was listen to her play, I cannot ever remember her disappointing me with anything she took on however difficult it may have seemed to me.
Over the years I had become well acquainted with many well connected musicians in orchestras in this country and one wet Saturday afternoon I saw her off on a train with her parents, for an audition in the big city, wishing her well but also knowing it would be the beginning of a career for her she well deserved and would perhaps never see her again.
It must have been at least ten years later, attending a concert one night in Manchester, I was on this occasion sitting quite close to the conductor about two or three rows back. I had a program, but hadn’t bothered to read it, content just to listen and enjoy.
I didn’t even hear her name mentioned, just automatically clapped with the rest of the audience when the guest musician was announced.My eyes were closed, literally . . . . .
Niccolo Paganini ‘s Concerto No.1 in D for Violin. Op.6
The joy of that piece of music opened my eyes; there was that ‘Ugly Duckling’ so fine in her evening gown, she had turned into a beautiful swan playing with ease the difficult piece that brought the house down, everyone to a man giving her the standing ovation she so rightly deserved.
As I said, I was thrilled beyond belief she had made it, right to the very, very top of her profession, to play what was in her soul on her beloved violin!
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