Friday 14 August 2015

Deaf Girly and the silent Prom

Yesterday I went to the see a Prom with The Rents at the Royal Albert Hall. I love going to the Proms – there's something about the amazing location, comfy seats and usually excellent selection of music that means that you float out afterwards inspired and happy.

Ondes Martenot (Image from Wikipedia)

Last night Pa was very excited as it was a performance of Olivier Messiaen's Turangal├«la Symphony, which features an instrument called the Ondes Martenot – an electronic piano invented in 1928. Even more exciting was that the person playing it actually knew Messiaen when he was alive.

And so, after the first half, which was John Foulds' Three Mantras – wonderful wonderful music – we settled back and waited for the performance to begin.

I was so excited to hear what this funny-looking piano might sound like – Pa described it as other worldly – but as the music started and the performer began to play, I realised that I couldn't hear it at all. Maybe it was because we were sat behind the orchestra and the sound was projected forward only, maybe it was because the brass had very active roles in the piece and I can hear brass better than any other instrument, or maybe it was because it was high-pitched. Whatever it was, I still don't have any idea what the Ondes Martenot sounds like.

I sat there for a while trying to make sense of the sounds I could make out but they lacked structure and being quite modern sounding, I was unable to guess the bits I couldn't hear. This is something with the big classical composers like Mozart and Beethoven I can do – I can imagine the violin parts when I hear the cello and double basses play. And imagine the flutes and oboes alongside the clarinets and bassoons. I'm pretty sure it's not accurate but my head just fills in the blanks for me to help make the music more 3D.

Anyway, as unintelligible noise assaulted my ears, I started to feel my eyes close, which when you're sat behind the orchestra in full view of the rest of the Albert Hall – and known for sleep shouting – is not ideal.

'Must. Stay. Awake.' I ordered myself as I dozed off again. 'Must. Stay. Awake.' and then I remembered I had my Kindle in my bag with Lucy Robinson's new book The Day We Disappeared waiting to be read (which is brilliant by the way). And that's what I did. For the 60 minutes left of the performance, I tucked my Kindle inside my programme, so as not to appear to rude and read. And do you know what? It made the music I could hear more bearable. When it was the secondary thing I was concentrating on, the loud brass was interesting and rhythmic and the bassoons were amazing.

Applauding loudly at the end, I realised that for the first time, maybe ever, I wasn't feeling sad about the fact I'd just sat through a largely inaudible classical performance. Something that in the past would have reduced me to tears of frustration. But last night, I was OK with it. And it made me wonder if perhaps I've laid my sadness about having to give up my violin and flute and any musical ambitions I might have ever had to rest. Finally! Or maybe the grieving period is over. 

I've realised I don't miss my flute anymore. And up until three years ago, I couldn't even open the box without feeling an acute pain in my heart. About the instrument I had begged to be allowed to play and the instrument I did my final recital on where most of what I could hear was in my head not in reality. 

But I do miss music. So I've decided to take advantage of the fact the Proms have tickets left still and go to a whole load. See what I can and can't here, armed with my Kindle just in case.

In the meantime though, if anyone has access to, or knows where I can find, an Ondes Martenot can you let me know as I'd love to see if, in a quiet room, with my ear pressed to the speaker, I could hear the instrument that seemed to capture the whole Albert Hall with complete glee last night.

Happy Friday peeps



spratton said...

it was a wonderful concert. i do hope that you find a way to listen to that wonderfully weird instrument!

makropulos said...

I've just read this - six months after the event. The Ondes Martenot is an amazing instrument and I think you'd have fun discovering some of the weird and wonderful sounds it can make. Next Saturday (9th January) there's a whole study day at the South Bank Centre (Royal Festival Hall) about the Turangalîla Symphony - I'm one of the people talking at it and I know they are hoping to get an Ondes Martenot player and instrument there to demonstrate it - probably around lunchtime (the whole day kicks off at 12 noon). It should be a chance for a small group of interested people to have a look and listen to it!

Love your blog, by the way!

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