At the end of my first year at Tain Royal Academy, I was more than a little surprised to see that I had come fifth in music.
And it had to be true because there it was in this paper’s sister publication, the Ross-shire Journal.
But how did they, the teachers, know who had come first, second, or even fifth in any given subject? Some subjects had exams for sure, but others like music didn’t. We just trooped along to Room 9, the big oval classroom above the front door, once a week and sang a song or two.
The Two Grenadiers (which I was much later to discover was by Schumann), something or another about a flea (any TRA classmates out there remember what it was?) and other assorted bits of stuff that were gamely taught to us by our music teacher Bill Beaton, a man reputed to be the must terrifying belter in the entire school.
Legend had it that it hung over his shoulder and beneath his brown tweed jacket, ready for instant use should we need to be disciplined. So there was never ever any bad behaviour in his class. We were all far too terrified.
“Right!” he said one morning.
“Now pay attention, this piece of music I am going to play is by Beethoven - I expect none of you have heard of Beethoven - hands up, anyone heard of Beethoven?”
I stuck my hand up.
My father had three records with that name on them stored in the left hand side storage well of the wedding present Cambridge Radiogram. I had never listened to them, but I knew that they had “symphony” written on them, and I said that to Mr Beaton.
That I honestly think is why I came fifth in music.
I move forward in time now to my fourth year, the year of the dreaded O-Grades.
All eight of them – and what a lot of swotting they took.
Evening after evening I sat on the floor up against the heavy curtains trying to get all the facts in. My parents were on the other side of the house watching the television, but not me. Oh the terror of those exams.
It was in the midst of all the revision (chemistry, if I remember rightly) that I lifted my eyes, and gazed across the room and to the right of the fireplace.
The Cambridge Radiogram...
I got up, crossed the room, switched it on, and put on Beethoven’s 4th symphony. That was the first time that I ever heard it , and you know, it had something about it. So later I put it on again and liked it a little more.
Over the next days and weeks I worked my way through my father’s small collection of classical LPs, playing each one again and again until I got to know the music really rather well. I am sorry if this sounds incredibly pretentious (it does!) but I actually embarked on a voyage of discovery that I have never regretted.
I can name each LP record.
Beethoven’s symphonies 3,4 and 7 ; Tchaikovsky’s 5th symphony and Romeo and Juliet overture (a picture of a skull on the cover that had scared me when I was little) and Wagner’s Tannhaiser overture. Oh and something by Stravinsky. Didn’t like it. Still don’t today.
Seven records in all and I practically wore them out with the listening (apart from the Stravinsky).
That was why I took my first plunge and bought (in Inverness’s Woolworth) my first LP record – JS Bach’s organ work Toccata and Fugue in D minor (why? - because my mother told me it was “absolutely gorgeous”). Mother’s advice, and academic dire necessity.
And so I took my first tentative steps along the classical music road – a road that was ultimately to do for my most treasured possession, my Hornby train set.
But that will have to wait until my column a fortnight hence.
Meantime if you say to me “Oxygen has a valency of two” I still hear in my head Beethoven’s 4th symphony. Strange isn’t it.