My Very First Mend

My very earliest memory of mending goes back to when I was three or four. We lived in a top floor flat in London – eighty six stairs up (no lift back then), and sash windows with deep window sills both inside and out.( No child locks then either). I loved to sit on the window sill, leaning out to watch the Old Brompton Road traffic down below. It then must have occurred to me that it would be interesting to drop something out of the window and watch its progress to the pavement below. For some reason I chose a rather pretty pink patterned china cigarette box with matching small pot for matches (everyone smoked then too). Out they went. The next thing I remember is my grim faced mother, firmly clasping my hand as we went down the eighty six stairs, collected the broken bits from the pavement, and climbed the eighty six stairs again. We then set about mending the box and pot. Very wonky they were too. But the lesson went firmly home; it was the principle that mattered. I had broken something, therefore I must be responsible for mending it. I seem to remember that the next things I fancied throwing out of the window were newspapers, which were actually much more fun, as they blew about before wrapping themselves round the ankles of passers by, and of course, did not require mending afterwards.

Musical Mending

”To mend: to repair something that is broken or damaged so that it can be used again” I have noted with interest how, as a musician, I can talk with a visual artist on parallel lines and this subject is no exception. In some forms of music making, there exists certain ’notation’, a graphic representative of what should be played – classical orchestral players for example, are bound to a score – how can a musical ’mistake’ be mended if one player in a large ensemble deviates from the score? My background is in jazz music, an area which allows for improvisation, ”creative making it up” but usually within strict boundaries of harmonic form so choices are limited – many players of course, choose to play ’outside’ the form when improvising but return to the structure inevitably. Ornette Coleman et al are a story for another time.

My musical mending story is set on the top floor of a workshop room at the royal festival hall on london’s southbank. I had been asked to run a choral workshop. I walked in to find a formal group of singers (with aforementioned scores in their hands) finishing their workshop. I had maybe 35 participants following, 25 I knew from a community choir I run. As the workshop continued a large group (15 plus) of young people from Lambeth came to join us – a marked difference in demographic from who was already in the room. I threw my mental lesson plan out of my head and improvised. We tried a round (think ”london’s burning” as in you learn a short song and then sing it together at different times) – it was rhythmically and melodically complex. I started, as I always do, by teaching the words first in a call and response fashion, adding rhythm in small chunks, then melody. It became clear as the piece grew that it was far too complicated and the group was struggling. This was creativity happening live, with the participants also audience and me acting as faciltator and performer and figuring out how on earth to save the day without destroying what we had begun, ie by mending it and transforming it into something else without revealing it had broken, whilst my heartbeat raced & my face flushed.

The last line of the piece is ”…down to your feet” – so in an oddly altered state of consciousness I knew I had to bring this particular piece to a close even though we had not long started, so using hand signs split the large circle of people into 5, asking group 1 to keep chanting the last word of the last line ie ”feet feet feet feet”, then group 2 sang ”these boots are made for walking”, group 3 ”I have got my kinky boots on!” (No idea – this was right brain runaway train panic) , group 4 ”I love my wellies”, group 5 ”Adi? Nike? Which trainers shall I buy?” – all to different tunes somehow linking in to the melody of the Nancy Sinatra song. I crossed in and out of the different parts, giving every group their solo, with everyone together at the end singing ”… of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you”

It could have been an embarrassing disaster making it known they were not up to doing the first piece I had offered in the time we had so I had to repair and fast.

Whilst doing my music degree at Goldsmiths in the 90’s I felt inadequate as a mature student without ”A” level music, arriving from a gigging pop background. Getting my musical analysis ’wrong’ or not being able to ’repair’ harmonic errors in compositions etc was tough. Music therapy & shiatsu training followed, allowing for space to listen ( either with ears or hands) and to respond appropriately. Giving myself permission to deviate from the path creatively and to accept the outcome has been surprisingly liberating.