A glance at my Twitter feed will tell you that I’ve been assembling flat-pack bookcases today (amongst other, probably ultimately less productive, activities). For one reason or another, over the last 18 months I’ve been attempting to get to grips with the vast flotilla of junk that I seem to have collected, and stored (ok, perhaps “dumped” would be more accurate) in various locations throughout the UK. I finally feel I’m getting a grip on it all, by filtering, recycling, digitising and, when all else fails, ditching.
It’s a strange, cathartic process: realising, deciding, accepting that I’m probably never going to need my lecture notes on advanced undergraduate Nuclear Physics again (although it was quite a pleasant surprise to unearth evidence that I did actually attend Physics lectures from time to time, even in my final year); stumbling across photographs of events faded into distant memory; re-reading letters, passionate, amusing, occasionally heartbreaking when they’re signed by friends who little knew at the time of writing how few days they had left to experience life’s disappointments and joys.
Unsettling too to be reminded of the person I used to be. I’m about to take a deep breath and wonder how to catalogue, arrange or store my CD collection. When I was 13 or so, I appeared in the Welsh soap opera Pobol y Cwm. With the fee, I bought my first CD player, and 3 CDs – Ashkenazy playing Chopin, the Berlin Philharmonic under Karajan playing Beethoven 9, and the highlights disc of Solti’s recording of Le Nozze di Figaro. I can’t explain those choices in hindsight, although I probably had strong opinions on the matter (and most other matters too) at the time, but they seem to me pretty good for a youngster limited to whatever Boots happened to have on the shelves that day.
I’d forgotten how much music used to be an escape, from the pressures of growing up and trying to make sense of the adult world and (no doubt) its inherent harshness and injustice. It’s probably the case for most young music lovers. And it strikes me how paradoxical it is, from my perspective now, that this escape leads, sometimes, to the discovery of a talent, and the exploration of that talent, sometimes, leads to a career in music – but that the job of a performing musician cannot be just to escape. In fact, it must also be to engage with and embrace the real world. And so this question of our relationship to our talents: are they there to serve us, for us to do with, or neglect, as we see fit? Or do we have an obligation to explore and develop them to their fullest extent, knowing that others would envy what the roll of nature’s dice has given us, even when that process takes us far from what was the joyful object of the exercise in the first place?