Bega, 1989 & present day Wagga

As a teenager, I harboured completely delusional fantasies about becoming a classical musician. I mean. Completely. Delusional. I thought I might become a flautist for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, despite having, at the age of fifteen, never even attempted a musical exam on the flute. What can I say. I had a rich, if spectacularly naive, inner life.

I grew up in the Bega Valley and went to the local high school. This was not a bastion of the arts. My teacher, Ms. C., once described it as being “behind the door when the culture was handed out”, but she was pretty angry at the time about people not turning up to rehearsals. (Our band: several flutes, about six acoustic guitars, a couple of recorders and two clarinets.) There probably was a cultural scene for adults, but as a desert-booted teenager living half an hour out of town with no drivers licence, this was not available to me. All I had was the ABC Sunday Stereo Special.

My music class, populated mostly by much cooler students, had to perform a group piece in front of the class for an assignment. For some reason, I decided this audience would totally respond to my friend Emma and I playing Handel’s O Lovely Peace as a recorder duet. I’d found it in one of my nana’s song books, picked the tune out on the piano and really liked it. I shucked the plastic wrap from a new cassette, put it in my tape recorder, pressed the record button, and carefully played each part with a metronome ticking in the background, so Emma and I could practise the harmonising bits when we were apart.

The performance went alright – the class had sniggered, but Ms. C. said it had made a nice change to hear recorders being played normally for once – and that was that.

But the music’s stuck with me all these years. On a calm afternoon, looking out at a tranquil playground blessedly free of my own students, it will well up, fresh and pure in my head: O lovely peace, with plenty crown’d, O lovely, lovely peace, come spread thy blessings, thy blessings all around. Driving past green paddocks fat with sheep and chromium yellow plains of canola on my way to visit my mum, now living in Wagga, I’ll hear it: Let fleecy flocks the hills adorn, and valleys smile with wavy corn. And I think, what a strange piece for me to choose. But also: how right.

Stereo Story #583

(I never did make it as a classical flautist, but did do work experience  – aka photocopying and coffee fetching –  for the SSO in year 10.)

Twelve more stories about classical music.

Felicity Sandral is a high school English teacher who lives in Sydney and, when not marking student essays, sometimes does a bit of writing.