Let me take the first thought that comes to mind and then let me run with it – the discovery of the pleasure of music. Many years ago when I was about seven or eight, it must have been 1962 or 1963, my father bought us a record player. Our first. Its arrival in our family home in Dublin, Ireland was a major event and there was much celebration in the household. An act of wilful defiance in the face of the family’s impoverished state at the time – as if my parents felt that a batsqueak of pleasure must be had despite the inevitable deficit in the housekeeping money for weeks to come. This musical device was a primitive, battery-driven red and cream-coloured affair but for my sister and I it became a magical toy, a thing of delight that shone brightly in our young lives and our other toys paled into insignificance remaining unplayed with during this period. At the same time as the purchase of this simple record player, my father obtained three black vinyl LPs (Long Playing [records]): Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik; Chopin’s Preludes and Schubert’s Unvollendete (Unfinished) + Rosamunde. It was the start of an exciting adventure in the appreciation of music which continues up to the present.
There was no TV in the house in those far off days but we did possess an old-fashioned radio with valves that was large and sat majestically in the sitting room. From memory, it seemed to be only switched on for news, plays and other programmes where the spoken word was the expected output of this broadcasting apparatus. Up till then, it was as if the airwaves were devoted to serious matters where music and the pleasure of experiencing it had not existed in my life.
I recall as if it were yesterday when my father came home from work one winter’s evening and then unpacked the mysterious and as yet unused record player. We stared at this strange, new colourful piece of machinery now in our family’s midst and after carefully reading the instructions in Dutch (as it was a Phillips from Holland) put the first record on. It was the Schubert. Fortunately, as my father was fluent in German he could make a fist of the Dutch guidelines and I remember him carefully placing the stylus on the edge of the LP so as to engage the start of the first glorious grooves that held the golden secret where music would spring forth. At first we were puzzled as we heard the sound of a swishing scratchiness as the needle at the end of the arm holding the stylus engaged the LP as it whizzed around the turntable at the required speed of 33⅓ rpm (revolutions per minute). My sister, mother and I looked at each other in a kind of bewildered excitement not knowing what to expect but elated nonetheless. But no music - yet.
Then, the opening bars of the Unvollendete played. At that precise moment, my soul was captured and I was taken to a new universe of imagination as I delighted in the sound of orchestral music played to my very young ear with such delicacy and enchantment. Never mind the scratches and imperfections on this vinyl record because there was something special about this music that penetrated and slowly embedded itself in my psyche. Even then as a young boy I felt that this was a major discovery: the revelation that music could delight so much and so deeply. It was also fun.
It was the same with the Mozart and Chopin records. For the following weeks, my sister and I played those three LPs incessantly as we could not get enough of the magical sound from this simple red and cream record player - a piece of kit solely devoted to the output of music and song as we later acquired an EP (Extended Play [record]) that was slightly smaller in size than an LP and had to be played at the faster speed of 45 rpm. That new addition to our nascent record collection was 'Golden Hits of the 1920s' and to this day I can recognise the distinctive tune of the 'Black Bottom' dance.
For me, this childish batsqueak of pleasure fifty years ago was the onset of a marvellous and enriching lifelong adventure with music.