Virginia Barton

6 February 2015: The Food of Love


6 February 2015


“Does your Mum always do that?”
“Sing in public places.”
“How embarrassing.”
”Can’t you stop her?”
“She doesn’t know she’s doing it. Anyway there’s no law against it is there.” (Turns on heel.)
“Glad she’s not my Mum!” (Yells after blushing daughter.)


Vera_Lynn_CDAJA5464I can’t remember not singing, and even now when the notes come lower and lower down the scale I still do it. My poor children – it must have been squirm-making when we went into the bank and the Chief Cashier announced:

“Here comes the Vera Lynn of Bookham!”

Which is where we lived at the time. In leafy Surrey, where singing in public was absolutely out of order.


Considering how large a part music plays in my life, it’s odd that the only time it’s figured in these Commonplaces is when I wrote about the Proms ages ago. Music is the background to almost every waking hour, except when out and about since I can’t abide a Walkman thingie stuffed into my ears.

Music must be loud enough to hear (Beethoven and Wagner very loud) and preferably perfectly reproduced. DAB radio is a godsend oh my golly; how did we tolerate concerts on the wireless before its advent? And yet those broadcast concerts, and the old shellac LP’s (33’s we called them) were our introduction to serious music, and the drawbacks of scratches and glitches never put us off. Indeed we knew nothing better unless we went to a real live performance and they, of course, were thrilling and rare events.

We followed our favourite conductors and soloists like groupies. I can honestly say that attending a live performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion, conducted by Sir Malcolm Sarjent, when I was eleven, altered my musical landscape forever. I learned the piano, sang in a choir, and had a crush on the singing mistress Miss Castle. We sang in a Coronation concert at London’s Festival Hall, and countless productions at school. Even swallowing a top “C” during a solo didn’t put me off . . . You might say I loved the sound of my own voice.


West_Side_001Late teens brought jazz, musicals and pop, lots of it, and I loved that too. We went to skiffle bars in low London and the screening of Rock around the Clock where we behaved badly in the aisles, including me. West Side Story was the bridge between rock and pop and a return to Mr Bach et al.

Was it just age or marriage and motherhood that sobered me up? Although the Beatles, Kinks and other choice Sixties sounds still remained favourites, classical music came back with a blast.

BH is an opera buff – I’d never liked it until he took me to Der Rosenkavalier. Since then my head has never been the same again. Isn’t it extraordinary how much you can cram into your head and yet there’s always room for more?

(Incidentally, have you stumbled across Daniel Levitin’s The Organised Mind, an instant best-seller that has just come out?)


I won’t bore you with personal likes and dislikes, especially since I have no explanation for either and music is always music. There will always be room for the old favorites, no longer on disc but sometimes on YouTube: Where do you go to my lovely?, Sunny Afternoon, Simon Smith and his Dancing Bear.

Such are the tunes that belong to carefree times. Nowadays you’re more likely to hear Götterdämmerung, Bluebeard’s Castle or the Exultate Jubilate pounding out of my kitchen.

Mind you, I’d be hard pushed to sing excerpts from any of those in the bank. Specially Bluebeard.






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