In 1992, the highlight of my performing musical career was an appearance in the primary school production of Oliver!, where I sung beautifully (and in tune), and played the recorder. As I got older, the natural progression to a more ‘grown up’ instrument was expected, and so I picked up a clarinet, and on one very good day in 1993, I managed to produce a single, in-tune note (I think it was a B). And thus ended my musical career, as the other sounds emanating from a succession of broken and cracked reeds, although impressive in their range of volume and frequency, could not have been described by the deafest of posts as musical. I persevered, trying and failing (admittedly without lessons) to produce anything tuneful from a piano; eventually even my voice gave up the fight, degenerating to produce a range of sounds not dissimilar to those I’d coerced from the clarinet a couple of years previously. I soon gave music up as a lost cause to pursue an equally fruitless career as a footballer.
Until, that was, this Saturday. The day dawned much like any other. The impending doom of my 30th birthday loomed on the horizon, but nothing else seemed especially amiss. Ali, however, had other ideas, and a cunning glint in her eye that foretold of troubles to come. After a hurried breakfast (based substantially on coffee) I discovered that the glint related to a special birthday surprise that involved leaving the house sharpish. I’ve always been wary of surprises, but at this point I was still half asleep and a bit non-plussed by the unusual level of activity at 7am on a Saturday. We quick-marched to the Italian Market area of Philly and stopped outside a rather dusty looking shop with the curious name Liberty Bellows. In the window, amongst crib books and music stands, were displayed a staggering, beautiful array of keyboards, organs, concertinas, harmonicas, melodicas and accordions. Ali knocked, and after a moment the door was unlocked and un-bolted. Inside the shop I was introduced to Michael, a tutor, and a lovely old student Hohner accordion that now appeared to belong to me. I had a bit of an Edward Woodward moment as remembrances of musical failures past came flooding back, but by this point I was fully committed; there would be no turning around.
For the next hour, under the expert guidance of my new musical tutor, I proceeded to violate said accordion in a vain attempt to learn to play ‘Happy Birthday’ to myself. My poor tutor rapidly rifled the pages of the exercise book backwards to page one: ‘What is a note?’. However, to my surprise, by the end of an hour I was markedly improved. Not anywhere near to decent, but at least showing some twitching signs of life. And it was fun – I think in the years since I last played anything I’ve learnt to swallow a little bit of pride, and maybe accept being a bit rubbish at something until I can learn to be better at it. So I carried my new accordion proudly home, and resolved that by the time I turn 31 we will play ‘Happy Birthday to me’ together in something approaching musicality.
So far I have annoyed the neighbours twice in two days, but I can play C’s and G’s on my left and right hand (apparently there’s also an A, but no T or U), and I can play two bars on an ‘out’ squeeze and two bars on an ‘in’ squeeze. It’s harder than it sounds. More musical updates to follow soon.