Post written by Grace Gouldthorpe.
Music has been a passion in my life since the age of 8 when I started learning to play the piano. I enjoyed it very much. By the age of 11, I had passed all my piano exams up to Grade 5 of the Royal Academy of Music and in my first two years of my Secondary school, I played the hymns for our daily assembly which was quite challenging and have no idea how I became the regular pianist. When we transferred to the main school in my third year, a very talented pianist, Geoffrey Arnold, played for the assemblies but when he went to university at the age of 18, I again became the pianist until I completed my academic education. Some other musicians joined me such as violinists and I began to enjoy this very much. I was not allowed to continue further piano exams until I first completed my theory exams. However, I chose to do music as an academic subject and I was taught theory, four part melody writing as well as the history of music, and I had to perform certain classical pieces at higher grades. It was in my second form at the age of 12 that Miss Betty Williams became my music teacher and started teaching me the required set pieces, first for my “O Level” examinations at the age of 16 and then for my “A Level” examination that I took when I was 18. I owe Betty Williams for everything that I now know. She was a brilliant piano teacher and I never had a moment’s fear about playing at a higher level for these exams because she inspired me with great confidence because I knew that she had taught me well. I loved being in the school choir throughout my secondary education where I was introduced to so much beautiful classical music. We performed concerts for family and friends including “Dido and Aeneas” which I loved and knew every aria and chorus because we practiced so much. I had a minor part in this opera as one of the witches!! Another reason for my growing interest and love for good music was that Wales is, “The Land of Song” where everyone loves to sing. In what other country of the world are rousing (Welsh) hymns sung to psych up the team and the crowd before a rugby match starts? On St David’s Day (March 1) the school Eisteddfod, as in any Eisteddfod, was dominated by different competitions of vocal and instrumental music which was an annual highlight.
Then my dear brother Calvin began to love music as a result of my father’s best friend, Uncle Charlie, who used to play invigorating music, such as Rossini’s Overture of “The Barber of Seville” on my piano. He was a very enthusiastic extrovert and he inspired us all. Calvin started buying 10 and 12 inch gramophone records of the Great Masters which we played every day and part of the ritual was winding up the gramophone for each record. My love and interest continued to grow and again my generous brother, who was 6 years older, took me to several performances at the Brangwyn Hall in Swansea where I had the awesome privilege of attending concerts that included symphonies, concertos and piano recitals with Great Britain’s best of the best conductors and soloists such as Sir Thomas Beecham, Sir John Barbirolli, Solomon, Pouishnoff, Myra Hess and I attended grand operas in Wales such as Nabucco, Il Travotore, La Traviata, Aida, Carmen etc. but never enjoyed such operas as Elektra and Benvenuto Cellini most probably because I was unfamiliar with them. I loved the Messaiah as it was often played in my home. Of course, I loved light operas and musicals such as Gilbert and Sullivan and later on when I taught at Chiswick County Grammar School, my school put on “HMS Pinafore” and I played the part of Buttercup describes as a “plump and pleasing person!!” I thoroughly enjoyed the experience as it was so much fun and I found the lyrics most amusing.
When we lived in Chiswick, London we became very close friends with a gentleman named John Goodwin who only lived a street away from us. He used to have meals with us at the weekends. He was extremely generous and I guess he wanted to do something special for us in return. He was an opera and ballet enthusiast and so he started taking us to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden every occasion when there was a special performance. He would go early on a Saturday morning and stand in a queue in order to purchase tickets for the three of us and would always be so excited when he managed to purchase them. Sometimes he was only able to buy 2 and on those occasions I was the one who would go with him but it was always better if he could get three and he, Martin and I would go together. Often he would insist on taking us before the performance to the Strand Palace Hotel for a wonderful dinner in the Carvery restaurant. He seemed to love spoiling us and we appreciated these treats so much.
Since then we have spasmodically seen a number of operas but until recently I never had a deep longing to attend operas. Then some months ago, Martin’s friend Colin, in California, wrote and told us that he and his wife Thelma were regularly attending performances of Shakespeare plays in their local cinema which were streamed in HD from major theatres in the US and UK. He said that operas were also streamed live in HD from the Metropolitan Opera House, New York and recommended them to us if they were available in our Cineplex Cinema Complex. Martin’s enquiries did not produce any positive information of live streaming in our nearest Cineplex theatre. However, in late December some friends, whom we hadn’t seen for some years, told us that they regularly attended these Live in HD
events in a theatre in the town of Mission, six miles from our home. So on Saturday morning, January 27th Martin and I went to see Tosca, streamed in live HD from the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. We were amazed by the whole experience and immediately made the decision that we would not miss a single performance in the future. We were equally ‘wowed’ and enjoyed it better than any other performance of an opera that we have ever seen.
As you all know the huge screens in such cinemas provide a close up view of every performer and every detail of the scenery, and it is enhanced even more by the incredible sound system where one feels engulfed by the rich music of the opera. Another feature is that captions in English appear on the screen which makes the story line easy to follow and appreciate. The transmission from the Met to the cinema began prior to the actual start of the performance. The cameras being used were panning around the auditorium and
we could see the members of the audience arriving and taking their seats, eagerly waiting for the start of the performance. It was delightful and encouraging to see young children there with their parents. This made us feel as if we were participators with the New York attendees. Some of the children obviously knew about the live streaming that was taking place and enjoyed themselves waving at the cameras with mischievous grins on their faces. Then during the intermissions, we were taken backstage and given a look behind the scenes. This was fascinating with so many stage hands working individually and together with such dexterity and “choreography” as they changed the huge sets from the one needed in the Act just finished to the one needed in the next Act. The intermissions also included live
interviews with singers, directors, designers and stage technicians, as well as documentaries. Apparently Live in HD operas are being shown in 2,000 theatres in over 70 countries and this year there are 10 scheduled operas. Two weeks after Tosca, we returned to Mission to see our second opera, L’Elisir d’Amore and were equally thrilled by our visit. We planned to go on February 24 to see La Boheme but during the day before and overnight almost a foot of snow fell on the valley in which we live. Not only would it have been foolish to attempt to make the journey to Mission but also, Martin actually spent most of the morning shoveling snow from our driveway and sidewalk in front of our house. We plan to attend an encore presentation that will be put on in April. In March we shall see Semiramide and Cosi Fan Tutte, and in April Luisa Miller and Cendrillon so we have lots of musical treats to which we can look forward. There may be some of you who have already been involved in this programme if it exists in a city near where you live but if not, I can fully recommend it because for us it has made opera so much more enjoyable. If my friend Lilian Sanderson reads this I want her to know that I now fully understand why she has become a total opera enthusiast and expert.
I still have all my red Covent Garden programmes, 29 in all from 1968 to 1972 of ballet and opera and I was fortunate to have seen Rudolph Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn dance on a number of occasions in “Romeo and Juliet” and “Giselle.” At the end of these performances, the fans used to throw endless amounts of bouquets on to the stage and quite a lot of us would clap for half an hour while they repeatedly returned to acknowledge our applause, much to our great delight. Nevertheless, I have seen most of the well-known operas and have always enjoyed the exquisite arias and certain well known choruses frequently played on the radio when we lived in the UK but somehow I didn’t become very interested as a whole in grand operas compared with my love for other forms of classical music. Deep down I knew it must only be because I was not familiar enough with them as I am with symphonies and piano concertos.
I am so grateful that Martin has always had a deep appreciation for classical music. He too began to love music first when he was a child when he loved to watch and listen to his talented father as he effortlessly and naturally played some classical music, but mainly jazz. He was a semiprofessional musician and played in a jazz and dance band prior to WW2 but even before that he played for silent movies (so did my maternal grandmother in Wales). It’s a shame that Martin never learned to play the piano as a child but from the age of 4 to 11 because he was an evacuee in Devon where he was not able to enjoy his dad’s playing and he had no access to a piano. Martin is very musical and has an encyclopedic knowledge of music and always recognizes any movement of most symphonies or concertos of all the Great Masters even though like Mozart or Haydn they wrote between 40 and 100 symphonies! When he was in the RAF, he had private lessons and after 10 lessons alone, he was playing Clementi sonatas but became daunted because his very pleasant teacher wanted to spend most of the lesson time sharing her problems with Martin. As there was a small child who was scheduled to have her lesson immediately following Martin’s allotted time, his lesson could never be extended to compensate for the “pastoral counselling” so he didn’t continue any longer. Although Martin can read music, he found it more satisfying to play by ear. If ever you visited us in our home in the daytime, you would inevitably hear classical music being played on our home theatre sound system.