This poem came to be written because I’d been thinking about a
music teacher we had at school. He was a very diffident man who
had to try and teach some elements of music to a crowd of children
for whom, by and large, music was a closed book. He stuck in my
mind because I liked him and liked what he was endeavouring to
do. Of course, a couple of years later came rock and roll, the
whole world of music opened up to us and then we were all
music, music, music!
Mr. Espalier, our music teacher,
Took himself very seriously,
So we had to take him seriously, too.
He would sit at the piano, strike a key,
Muse, ‘Top C’, do you see?’
Then launch into a melody so beyond us,
Only every now and again would a phrase catch our attention,
Stopping the tapping of pencils on teeth,
Lulling us into a silence that made us stop and listen.
But Mr. Espalier was full of surprises,
One day swinging into music that followed us home,
Curling all around the council houses,
Weaving in and out of the pink ‘Peace’ roses
Flowering in almost every garden,
Dogging our heels, scaring the unwary,
Banging on front doors and demanding entry.
We flung the doors wide enough, of course,
For every note to march straight in.
Until, like Mr. Espalier, this friendly, beaming stranger,
Demanded our full concentration before it would begin,
Almost carelessly, to give us its family name.
It was Dave Brubeck and Fats Waller,
Moody blues man, Muddy Waters.
Chopin and his mazurkas,
Ravel and Woody Guthrie.
Honky-tonk, rock’n’roll and Gospel Mahalia.
Sibelius, with the drowning beauty of his ‘Finlandia.’
‘Ophelia! Oh, Ophelia!’
Silky Peggy Lee and lovely ice-cool Ella.
Stravinsky in the Spring and Arnold Schoenberg
Whose every chord sent a flurry
Of exclamation marks flying through the air,
Filling every child there full of astounded questions.
Then, ‘Stand to attention, you lot at the back,’
For here comes Elgar,
As this glorious new family member
Claimed our hearts once for always and for ever.
It was probably then that Mr. Espalier’s class
Of soul-hungry children,
Whose family name had always been, ‘Rejection,’
Decided to grow roses when we got older
To honour him.
© GWEN GRANT