My father and I walked into the store together. My hand was held in his. His grasp was never too tight or too loose, always firm and reassuring.
I was intensely excited. My dad was taking me to one of his favourite stores to buy me a new recorder. I cast my eyes around the store, distracted by the gleaming baby grands and the shiny saxophones, but always remembering with a deep, quiet delight the real purpose of our visit.
I guess I was a strange kiddo. I would delay looking at things that pleased me the most, just like every night I would save the best bite on my plate for the very end of the meal. So I strolled through the store, while my dad caught up with his friend behind the counter. I could hear them chatting in the background, and I think my mother and brother were somewhere too, but quite honestly my dad and all the beautiful instruments were the only things I was aware of.
When I was eight, I was part of a group of kids who were asked to take a test to establish our musical ability. Our headmaster announced over the school intercom that we should all come to the school hall, where we were then put through a few assessments (I have no recollection of the content). I later heard that I was through, and I was invited to take music lessons at a high school across town – the only one that had music teachers on staff.
These twice weekly lessons became the very best part of my childhood, along with the tennis I played on two other days. I had no interest in performing at all, and in fact I turned into a scared snail peeping out of my shell when I had to get on stage. For me, it was all about the music – the progressive, patterned delight of it.
Pretty soon I was exploring all kinds of wonderfulness with the help of a warm, beautiful young music teacher. I wanted to play every instrument she could play, and absolutely worshipped her. She could make any instrument sound wonderful – guitar, recorder, piano or flute, but she was at her best playing harp. She started me out on the descant recorder and later I moved on to piano and guitar lessons. Somehow neither of them captured my heart though. I remain, geekily, a woodwind girl. My father and I even bought a few of the more unusual recorders to play around with– a sopranino for me and a big alto for him.
Then, when I was eleven, my father died and the following year I deliberately and firmly shut the whole of my musical world up in a hermetic box. I gave up my lessons and turned away from it all. I still regret that choice.
After he died, I kept my father’s alto in its case, now and then taking it out, gently and rhythmically putting it together. It was far too big for my little hands, and eventually I put it and my other instruments away until my early twenties.
That day, opening the box so many years later, it still somehow smelled of my father – sad, and sweet. Slowly I put it together again, cool and dark ebony pieces sliding into one another. And there it was – all that love, all that sadness, all that, all over again.