Before writing this column, I do a lot of listening again. But things have changed: when I press ‘Listen again’, I now get linked to something called BBC Sounds. So now I’m writing about neither Wireless nor Radio: I am Grove of Sounds.
By chance, I’m now listening (live) to a rather nice ‘collage of sound’ on Radio 3; a programme called Hear and Now – crickets, birdsong, silence and distant thunder rolling near.
On the same station, I’ve just heard another Slow Radio slot – recorded at Upton Hall, Nottinghamshire, which stores the country’s largest collection of clocks. The sounds went like this… ‘Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock’… for quite a long time. I realised I don’t after all much care for the sound of clocks ticking; especially not when alone, imagining a long, silent corridor in a large country house.
Chez nous, no clocks tick: of the two that did, one is defunct and one unwound. Who wants to be chronically
reminded of time’s winged chariot and the drawing down of blinds? Stop all the clocks!
The sounds I want to write about are heartening, uplifting, diverting, nonpolitical sounds – which mean music; which, essentially, for me, means Radio 3’s Private Passions. Out walking on Hampstead Heath with headphones on two blisteringly hot, golden Sundays this autumn, I’ve heard some sublime music on PP.
Bel Mooney’s choice included: Stabat Mater (‘which is what mothers do: stand and watch and deal with pain’); and Nigel Kennedy playing the Bach Partita No 3 and Beethoven’s Spring Sonata (‘which I recommend to anyone going through a hard time’). She finished with Kiri Te Kanawa singing Mozart’s Laudate Dominum. Her words were equally inspiring: she told the story of her stillborn son, Tom, and the piece she wrote in 1976 for the Guardian, opening a floodgate, influencing for ever the way mothers of dead babies are treated.
I was moved too, to hear Barenboim playing Mozart’s Sonata in A major. In 1967, this is the piece Jonathan Dimbleby would play on his mother’s piano, when wooing his future wife.
Beryl, as she was then, was a toothy girl in specs; 50 years on, as an agony aunt, she draws from a fount of wisdom that can be distilled into two vital principles: ‘Communicate’ (‘listen to Beethoven’s Spring, and hear how the instruments talk to each other’); and ‘Never say your marriage “failed”. Marriages just hit the buffers sometimes.’
Weeks later, Michael Berkeley’s guest was Richard Powers, an American novelist who lives in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. New to me, but, my goodness, what a good talker and thinker. I defy anyone not to be ‘knocked back in your chair’ as he said he was, on hearing Caroline Shaw’s Partita for Eight Voices, ‘performed by Roomful of Teeth’. (A first time on PP for this composer, said MB.) And there was also Dowland, Bartok, Mahler, Bach’s Cantata No 100 (‘Bach is God’ to MB) and, best of all, the traditional The Parting Glass, sung in immaculate harmony by the Canadian folk group the Wailin’ Jennys. So much to discover. Thank you, Richard Powers.
Thanks, too, to Lyse Doucet who reminisced about the late Marie Colvin on Archive on 4: Witnessing the Worst.
Most women journalists live in a kind of clover, scribbling away in domestic comfort. But war correspondents are another breed – into a flak jacket and desert boots at the first whiff of a conflict in some distant and hostile terrain.
Clare Hollingworth (1911-2017), who got the scoop of the 20th century in reporting the outbreak of the Second World War, scorned women who write soft stuff: the front line is what matters. Doucet said emotion was not wanted in dispatches: empathy was, and that knows no gender boundaries. A great programme.