A Classical Education – How TV taught me music

“Jesus Christ, what are we listening to now?”

Saturday night at our house. We are expecting guests for dinner and I have hit ‘shuffle’ on all songs in my iTunes library because creating a music playlist now will require time I could otherwise spend ensuring the downstairs loo is clean and has a full complement of candles and loo rolls.

What my husband has taken offence at is the Danse des Mirlitons from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.

He was expecting Christine and the Queens or The Clash.

“Ah! This is Frank Muir’s Everyone’s a Fruit and Nut Case from that advert, isn’t it?”

Yes, it’s that tune. The one which instantly conjures a bar of Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut for those of a certain age.

That advert was my introduction to The Nutcracker and indeed to Fruit and Nut. I remain a fan of both.

It was not however, the first I’d heard of Tchaikovsky.

Although my dad was a jazz aficionado whose collection encompassed just about everyone who’d ever tooted a clarinet, hit some skins or blown a trumpet, there were a few rogue LPs from other genres if you looked hard enough.

I tired quickly of ‘Bouzouki Sounds’ (a souvenir of a holiday to Corfu) but I could never get enough of The 1812 Overture which  was to be found sandwiched between Dizzy Gillespie and Artie Shaw.

I loved anything with a bit of drama; throw in a few exploding cannons and a full peal of bells and I was in my element.

But my education in classical music was really very patchy and largely gleaned from the telly.

I thought I’d love Old Spice aftershave because the music which accompanied that bloke surfing made my spine tingle.

I later discovered that Carl Orff had been seriously misrepresented. Old Spice is dreadful and Carmina Burana is so brilliant that I joined the choir in the Sixth Form just so I could sing it.

Both bring tears to my eyes though, so they do have something in common.

Lots of advertising used classical music in the seventies and eighties and I absorbed it like a sponge.

Bach’s Air on the G String was used in the Hamlet cigar ads, Dvorak’s New World Symphony got an outing for the Hovis ad and someone did some sanding with a Black and Decker tool to The Flight of the Bumblebee.

I was a romantic, imaginative child and all this music spoke to me. I had no idea what it was saying, but it did arouse feelings in me and often it made me cry.

And there is nothing an adolescent girl likes more than a good cry. You can only imagine how many tissues I got through during the British Airways campaign which used Delibes’ Flower Duet.

In 1981, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra made it into the charts with their ‘Hooked on Classics,’ a truly horrendous mash up of some great, popular classics set to a drum machine.

I picked out a few phrases I liked and asked my parents if I could buy the ‘proper’ versions.

One shopping trip to the record shop in Ilford later and I was furnished with a new LP.

With my purchase under my arm, I agreed to try on some new school shoes in another shop further up the High Road.

As we entered, the lady wielding the foot measure asked if I’d bought the latest in the pop charts?

“No,” I replied, “it’s Mozart’s Symphony Number 40 in G Minor.”

Yes. I hated me too.

But my parents got their own back the following year.

As I have explained, I liked music. All kinds of music. And in 1982, I really liked Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

I put it on my Christmas list.

I went to bed on Christmas Eve picturing the album: Michael Jackson in that white suit, looking intriguing and inviting me to slap him on the turntable.

The next morning, there, beneath the Christmas tree, was a flat, LP shaped present. My heart leapt.

I ripped the wrapping paper off and stared.

Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony.

I’m afraid I’ve felt indifferent to sheep ever since.

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1 comment

  1. And I’m sure you also loved ‘delicious ice-cream from Italy!’ how that particular cornet could compare itself to Italian Ice Cream beggars belief but the advert was good!

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