Friday, 1st February 2019
This week I attended one of the most memorable events that I have been to in a while. It was a drinks party put on by our School charity for this year, Soundabout. There were, as you might imagine, many of the great and the good milling around chatting. I met some interesting people, I must say, but the person who made the most impression on me was someone playing the piano. An odd thing, perhaps, for me to say given that I see very many people on an almost daily basis playing the piano. But this person was no ordinary pianist – he was Derek Paravicini. Derek is the first patron of Soundabout and he can play almost anything on the piano - a remarkable feat. I, for instance, went and asked him if he could play a little piece by Debussy called “The Golliwog’s Cakewalk” – a title perhaps which wouldn’t necessarily be chosen today but which the piece bears nonetheless. Not only did Derek know it, not only could he play it from memory, but he was able to improvise upon it as well. But that was not all. He played it from memory because that is the only way he can play anything because he is completely blind. In fact, he has to be led to the piano and seated at it. His hands go towards it until he finds the right notes and then he’s away! All that is, of course, remarkable but it is by no means everything. The moment one talks to Derek one realises that he is severely autistic, engaging in brief snatches of conversation followed by silence. And yet music flows through him in the most extraordinary way, a fluent and subtle form of communication, a personality brought to life through this extraordinary art form. It really was one of the most wonderful things to see and it brought home to me the extraordinary power of music to animate, to give a voice, and to bring a sense of purpose and harmony to an otherwise fractured life. I cannot recommend more highly the charity and I hope we will be able to raise a large sum of money to support its wonderful work.
On Sunday Soundabout is holding its first monthly concert of its inclusive pop-up choir where anyone can come and sing. The idea is that many of those people that the charity helps will be there to sing and it gives others the privilege of being able to perform alongside them. It will be held at Wolfson College, on Linton Road in North Oxford, 3.30 pm – 5.30 pm. Do go along if you can.
Another concert which I should remind you of is on Saturday at 7.30 pm in the Town Hall when one of our choristers, Alex Winnifrith, will be performing Fauré’s exquisite Pie Jesu alongside the world famous baritone, Sir Thomas Allen. What a glorious evening that will be. It is, as you probably remember, the annual concert given by Oxford Orpheus, the choir that helps us by sponsoring our Chorister Outreach Programme which brings singing to so many primary school children in Oxfordshire.
Snow has come. As I write this, the road outside my house looks like a winter paradise. Though we have been gripped by snow today it’s clearly not as bad as the situation in the American Midwest where temperatures have plummeted to 70F…. Snow always reminds me that, despite what we might believe, we are not entirely masters of the world and that our ways of doing things can be disrupted. It does cause trouble but it is very good for us, I think. Whenever snow comes I think of an exquisite passage from Laurie Lee’s incomparable book “Cider with Rosie” about his childhood in an isolated Cotswold valley not so very far from here. The passage which I implore you all to read, is in the chapter, “Winter and Summer”. He writes at one point:
“The Church Clock had stopped and the weathercock had frozen, so that both time and the winds were stilled; and nothing we thought, could be more exciting than this; interference by a hand unknown, the winter’s No to routine and laws – sinister, awesome and welcome.” Our normal routine was interrupted after break when we headed over to the Field and had a huge snowball fight. I had made, what I now realise, was the mistake of issuing a challenge in the Cathedral this morning, saying that I would out-snowball anyone who attempted to launch any snowballs in my direction. We took the whole School over to the Field and I quickly realised the error of my ways as I was surrounded by an army of pupils who proceeded to render me helpless by pummelling me with carefully constructed missiles. Pride comes before a fall! One boy, clutching a lump of snow the size of his torso, told me that I would feel its full force unless I promised to cancel prep immediately! Inevitably, seconds later, I was turned into a snowman.
Afterwards, I had Form 6 for RS. We are studying Hinduism and I asked the boys to design a deity. They were tasked with finding a name for the deity and to decide on its powers. One boy looked at me and said, “My deity is going to be called Donald Trump. His superpower is building walls.” Let us see to what extent the universe will benefit from his actions.