Category Archives: Music

The stolen violin

I started to play the violin at seven or eight years of age. My maternal grandmother’s family were all musically talented, and as my older sister Bernice was already playing the piano, my grandmother decided that I should play the violin. I remember my father buying me my first instrument and bringing it home. I unenthusiastically removed it from the case and made an attempt to play it. It sounded dreadful. It definitely wasn’t love at first sight, but like so many unpromising beginnings, my love for it grew.

Mother Cecily was the resident music teacher in Loreto College Crumlin where I attended school, and I remember happily gathering up my school bag during lessons and escaping the classroom twice weekly for music tutorials of 45 minutes duration. It was many years before music as a subject became an extra-curricular activity which took place after school hours. But while I was I with Mother Cecily I didn’t spend too much time wondering what I missing back in the classroom.

Cecily was an ancient tiny nun, who wore glasses that magnified her eyes so much, that she resembled an owl. She was passionate about music, and most of her pupils adored her. As time went by, I also learned how to read music, as each lesson included musical theory, sight reading and information on great composers and musical artists. I spent many happy hours in her little music room and as I progressed I entered and won several competitions and Feis Ceoil’s.

By the time I was twelve years of age, I was old enough to join the school orchestra. We performed at various events throughout the school year and competed with other schools in orchestral competitions. A couple of years later when we teamed up with the  Castleknock College Boys School orchestra, there was a sudden flurry of teen aged Loreto girls who begged to join the orchestra never having played an instrument before, pleading with Mother Cecily that they could quickly learn to play the triangle or other percussion instruments. Cecily gently insisted that they would have to know how to read music in order to become part of the orchestra, and many hopes were dashed, as being part of this musical ensemble suddenly became very cool amongst my peers.

Travelling out to the boarding school in Castleknock by hired bus every other Saturday was always an adventure, and after practice when Mother Cecily and Father Fehily went to take tea, we had an hour or two to gallivant and hang out with the lovely boys of Castleknock in the grounds of the college. I remember this period in my life as being great fun and I kept in contact with a few of those boys throughout my teen and early adult years.

My father had only one sibling, his brother Tommy who had never married. He was a skilled carpenter like my dad, but he enjoyed making musical instruments as a hobby. One Christmas he presented me with a beautiful handmade violin. It was remarkable. Each peg had mother of pearl and nine carat gold embedded in the wood, and the fingerboard featured an unusual treble clef motif in Ivory. The back of the violin was exquisitely inlaid with a mother of pearl rose whose petals held various hues and colours. It was absolutely unique. Tommy had spent almost a year, sourcing materials and crafting this precious gift for me and I had never owned anything so beautiful.

It didn’t come with a case, and when my father and I went to the music shop Mc Cullagh Piggott’s to buy one, we realised that the instrument was slightly larger than a standard violin so we couldn’t get a case to fit.

When I returned to school after the holidays, I carried the instrument in a makeshift soft bag that I had cobbled out of old jumpers. When Mother Cecily saw it, she rooted out an old ungainly wooden handmade case that looked like a coffin but the new instrument fitted inside perfectly.

As my violin was slightly bigger than a standard one Mother Cecily used me as a viola player when the need arose. We simply switched strings and I became the ‘viola section’ of the orchestra. The viola is the second instrument in the string family, graduating on to the cello, and finally to the double base. Being part of the violin section of the orchestra, I performed with several other players, but when my violin became a viola, I was always playing solo. I enjoyed the deeper tones that the alternative strings produced, and I also enjoyed the magical status that my violin held. It was a two in one and very special.

Because the wooden case was cumbersome and very heavy, I left it on a rack in a school corridor with other instruments and practised at home on my old violin. Leaving instruments on the rack in school was a common practice, and although they stood in a busy corridor, these instruments were out of bounds to pupils and were never touched or moved. On our trips out to Castleknock, it was simply lifted and placed on the bus, along with all the other violins, cellos, flutes, clarinets, oboes and various percussion instruments that were also often left on the rack.

Uncle Tommy only visited our house about twice a year, but the violin was always brought out and I performed for him. He enjoyed classical music and it was a shared subject that we could talk about. I was an awkward teenager, and he was a bachelor with limited experience of kids, so the instrument and the music gave us opportunities to chat and to enjoy each other’s company.

One Saturday in early summer I went into the school to collect my violin as I had a competition later that day. I went to the rack and opened the case, but the violin was not inside. It had been stolen sometime between the previous day when I had had a lesson and that morning when I called to collect it.

Despite a thorough search of the entire school the violin never turned up. Fliers were sent around, and every teacher asked every class if anyone knew what had happened to my violin. No one came forward and the instrument was never found. Sadly the nuns refused to take responsibility for its loss. I felt so bad. My mother believed that I was at fault and had somehow ‘lost it’ or left it on the bus (as I had done a few years previously with the older violin, which was recovered from the C.I.E  lost property office a day later).

When Uncle Tommy came to visit that Christmas, my father and mother lied to him and told him that the violin was in school in the “big case” over the holidays, as they believed that it would break his heart to find out that it had been stolen. I still remember playing my dishonest musical renditions for him on the old violin that Christmas. I felt guilty with every note that I produced and cut short the performance that I usually basked in.

He died the following spring never knowing that it was gone. The heart of playing the violin left me after that, and despite still having my older instrument I subsequently left the orchestra. The old violin was eventually passed onto a younger cousin, along with the sheet music, books, music stand, and other paraphernalia associated with it.

After I left school I took my musical knowledge and got a job in Walton’s music store in Dublin where I worked very happily for over four years. Over the course of those years, many second hand violins were brought in to the shop to trade up to newer instruments. I kept my eyes out, and all the sales staff knew the story of the stolen violin. But I’ve never seen it again.

I sometimes trawl through the Internet in the hope that I might stumble across it. I don’t know what I would do if I found it, I just know that I would recognise it in an instant as there could never be another one like it.

Destiny can often be about still appreciating things that are given with love long after they have gone.

Unforgettable moments…..

Dublin is a place that I am lucky to call my home. It is a city that is steeped in literary history and is beloved of many of its inhabitants. Writers have captured Dublin in many forms, but none greater in my opinion than James Joyce in his short story collection “Dubliners”.

This collection is evocative of my city during a particular time, and his stories capture life and society in such a way that I can imagine, smell and feel. Loving a particular author and the way that they write is always subjective, but the way that Joyce captures Dublin is the definitive account of that period for me.

‘The Dead’ is the last story in the collection and recounts the events of an annual party that takes place during the first week in January 1904 in the Morkan sisters house on Ushers Quay in Dublin.

The story provides insights into the guests who come to the house that night to join the annual party, and the central characters are Gabriel Conroy, his wife, and his Aunt’s (the Morkan sisters).

While the story is beautiful, the setting is equally so, as Joyce describes in detail the house and its environs in relation to the city centre.

I have a cousin who lives in a Gothic type Georgian house in County Wicklow. I am fortunate to be a confident and friend of this cousin who is a composer and musician and who, like the Morkan sisters hosts an annual party every Christmas.

Similarities to Joyce’s literary accounts are accidental, but the setting for this yearly party is resonant of the Morkan sister’s in a grand Georgian house with sash windows, high ceilings and candle lit rooms.

Last year I was again at his Christmas party along with the other annual visitors. I feel like a very special guest at this gathering, and I always clear my diary to make myself available. We only ever meet the other guests at this annual bash, but we have all become familiar with each other over the years, and conversations can vary from the easy, to the radical political, and the shouting each other down kind. We know each other well enough now not to take offence.

There are lots of different personalities at that annual table, but music is the common factor that binds us all.

When the cigars were lit after dinner last year, another cousin’s husband (who is a world class concert pianist) took to the piano while we were all still sitting around the candle lit table and began to play……

In a moment that will be forever etched in my memory, he played Clair De Lune by Debussy.

Listening to that beautiful music, whilst sitting in a Georgian room lit by candlelight, surrounded by friends and loved ones, I was transported to Joyce’s Dubliners. I was moved to tears in that moment by the beauty of the music and company that I was in. I pictured myself in the Morkan sister’s house, and realised that while 107 years had passed since Joyce had written about that particular incident, I was having my own pivotal literary experience right there in that moment.

I have revisited this night so often in my mind in the past year, and find solace, peace and tranquillity in the memory, and in the beautiful music that was played and shared amongst the other attending guests.

Life is made up of so many moments, minutes, hours and days. Some are memorable for a variety of reasons, and some are best forgotten. When things happen that bring me pleasure I usually remember them with clarity in the short term, and resolve to record and write about them so that I can reread the details of the event and somehow try to recapture that feeling, that joy that made the particular moment special. I rarely do what I set out to do in this regard, and many moments of pleasure have been lost in the murky clouds of my past. I wish that I could dredge them up like treasure from an ocean bed, to view them once again, but sadly most are lost having never been recorded.

Lessons learned late in life:

1) Record as many events that have occurred in your own lifetime that have made you happy in a diary that is written in your own handwriting.

2) Start a blog in an attempt to recapture those special moments so that they are not lost forever.

Option 2 is the only one available to me at this stage.

The memory of that beautiful night is etched in my mind, and I hope that I will never forget it. I have now faithfully recorded it here so that I can reread it again in the future in case the memory of this wonderful night fades.

Destiny can be about thoughts, feelings and experiences, that without a deliberate attempt to record them can become lost in the moments that slip away….

Is this Destinydelivered…..

There is something deep inside of me that is loosened by alcohol. I am not sure if it is a feeling of inadequacy, shyness, or reluctance, but I recognise that if I have a glass or two of wine, and I am near my computer- I am compelled to write my thoughts down.

Since I began blogging last year (July 2011) I have wanted to record and write so many things… It started out as a kind of living diary for me and for my already grown up children… I wanted them to somehow ‘see’ the person that was inside their mother….

I wanted them to separate the familiar ‘mammy’ that they knew and grew up with, from the woman that I was before they were born and who also lived a parallel life while they were children.

My ramblings were not intended for them to scrutinise in the ‘here and now’- they were for after I was gone.

This was the shyness, or the reluctance that stopped me from publically posting my blog for such a long time. I was afraid of being questioned, afraid of being ridiculed, afraid of being judged.

Becoming a blogger in the past year, I have learnt that writing personal stories, thoughts and histories, and sharing them amongst friends and family has actually been one of the most liberating experiences of my life.

It can sometimes be difficult to articulate fears and inexperience, to flounder in the face of adversity, and in front of people who expect that you will always perform to your optimum.

Blogging has allowed me to share how unsteady I have felt in my past, and also how I recognise that my future is not mapped out and assured.

I began writing this blog as a life diary for my children so that they could somehow know me after I was gone, but in writing it, I am getting to know myself more so than I ever thought possible by simply recounting my life and recording it.

Is this Destinydelivered?

Modern Technology and sleeping naked with German Film Directors…..

While chatting via text with a dear pal in Connecticut recently I was struck by the advances in technology that allow us to communicate instantly by typing words into a little piece of plastic. Our words and actions are captured and transmitted in the blink of an eye, and people in deepest darkest Peru ( as in the case of another friend recently) can stay in touch with family and friends, and carry on conversations via text- email- Skype and Facebook.

We are currently living in a global village where so many people are connected through various technologies, and sometimes my conversations on particular topics with friends or family can go on over several days using different technological platforms.

I can take photos and share them instantly. I can upload videos and do the same. The advances in social networking can mean that we never have to feel alone, although physically we may be.

While all this communication can be viewed as a good thing, there are those who lament the passing of letter writing and telephone conversations that used to go on for hours. People of my age and older remember queuing up outside public telephone boxes waiting for their turn to call home at the weekend before the advent of personal mobile phones. I personally remember the need to have lots of coin change for the operator when making long distance calls on public phones or the dreaded ‘pips’ would sound the untimely end of the conversation if the money ran out.

Telephone conversations between families back in the day were usually restricted if the family members were scattered across the globe, and I clearly remember a time growing up when all families in my neighbourhood did not have a telephone. One lucky neighbour had a public phone box outside her house and random passers-by would regularly answer the ringing phone and be instructed by the caller to ‘knock on number 98 and get Margaret for me please’.

Personally I still like to write and although I rarely go out and buy a stamp to put on an envelope, I do write emails in the same way that I used to write letters. I try to keep them informative and newsy and I think about the person reading them and what they will think upon receiving news about particular things or people. I stay in touch online with friends and family, and although I may text them regularly I also like to sit down and write emails to keep them informed about stuff that I may not text them about. It’s good to fill in the colours of an outline that I may have hinted about in a text message.

Living in this modern technological world we are more aware of how possible indiscretions can land us in trouble. Photos captured when you were not looking your best at 3am are cheerfully uploaded by ‘friends’ so that everyone can see how you had a wardrobe malfunction, or worse still, dribbling kebab sauce all over that beautiful top that you paid a fortune for the day before.

The list of shared horrors can go global in seconds…

Recalling an incident a few years ago I was invited to my cousin’s house in County Wicklow with my husband for a dinner party and an overnight stay. We regularly entertained and were on the ‘Dinner Party’ circuit with my cousin and his wife. He is a professional composer and musician, and all his parties ended with sing songs around the piano where he would belt out tunes and I would sing our grandmothers and mothers favourite songs. His mam and my mam are dear sisters.

This particular night my hubby and I arrived late. We dumped our overnight bag in the hall and charged down to meet the other guests who had gathered in the bar. Yes- our hosts did have a full bar in that particular house complete with high stools, optics and neon signs. It was a very cool party house.

I was introduced to a German Film Director (who shall remain nameless) and over a couple of pre-dinner drinks we discussed film, world politics (as you do) and other subjects. We got cosy on the high stools and when we were eventually called out of the bar into the dining room for dinner we sat beside each other in order to finish off our conversation.

As the night progressed and the wine flowed, the chat was divided equally amongst the other guests present. I was engaging, chatty and in fine form for the singing that eventually took place with my cousin at the piano. I was wearing a long black high necked cocktail dress on the night and at some stage my underwire bra began to pinch! I remember sneaking out to the hall (where my overnight bag was still residing) pulling the bra off and stuffing it into the bag and resuming my place at the piano where no one was any the wiser as to my bra less state.

At about 3am the guests began to depart and my husband also said good night to me, leaving my cousin and I still singing at the piano. The German Film Director had long left the company although he was also staying overnight.

My cousin and I were the last ones standing, his wife having also taken leave of us, abandoning us to our demented sentimental singing.

We continued chatting, singing and drinking until I noticed dawn creeping around the window frames, and having said good night/morning I stumbled my way upstairs to my room. As I entered the bedroom, daylight was filtering in through the curtains. I glanced around for my overnight bag and not seeing it, decided that it was just easier to peel my dress up over my head and sleep in my knickers.

I crawled into the familiar uncomfortable rigid futon and snuggled up against my husband’s back and wrapped my arm around him to get some heat. I murmured something about the fecking futon being ‘so damned hard’…. and that’s the last thing I remember before waking up alone with sunshine flooding the room at about 1pm the following day.

Looking around for my overnight bag and not finding it, I pulled on the dress from the night before and made my way down stairs to the lovely and welcome smell of breakfast. I entered the kitchen to greet my husband, my cousin, his wife and the German Film Director who were all sitting at the table. The stony silence matched their stony faces.

Grinning I took my place and asked why everyone was so quiet…. The German Film Director spoke first. “Leaving the party was tough” he said “but I knew I had to be up to travel to the airport. What I didn’t expect was a naked woman to creep into my bed, snuggle up to me, rub her breasts against my back, mutter something about it being hard and then to turn over and start snoring”.

Sitting there I remembered thinking “this conversation is strangely familiar”…… The four stern faces around the table confirmed that YES… I had gotten into the wrong bed!

In my defense!

My cousin had told my husband when we arrived LATE that we had been allocated another bedroom that night but neither of them had told me. I just followed a familiar worn path to the same room that we had previously occupied.

When the gracious German Film Director was accosted in his bed by a semi naked inebriated house guest who believed that the bed was HERS, he did the gentlemanly thing and vacated it immediately and spent the rest of the night on the downstairs sofa. (Or so he said)!

When my husband woke up and found me missing from his/our bed in the allocated alternative guest room he did a search for me and found me asleep on the familiar futon alone at about 9am. He also found the German Film Director asleep on the downstairs sofa.

Gathering early that morning, my husband, my cousin, his wife and the German Film Director pieced together the entire previous night’s scenario before I had raised my head, and collectively they decided to make me suffer AND THEY DID!

I remember sitting there thinking that had I fancied the German Film Director for an instant (and I didn’t) I could never have pulled off a stunt like this even if I wanted to.

We all departed the best of friends at about 4pm that day. The German Film Director drove to the airport to go home, my hubby and I went home to Dublin, and my cousin and his wife spent the remainder of the day clearing the detritus from the night before.

I was only home and in the door about 15 minutes when the texts and phone calls started. My escapades had reached the four corners of the globe and my mother was the first person on the phone. “Were you naked in bed with a Foreign Film Director while your husband was asleep in another room” she asked.

News like this in the 70’s & 80’s would have taken months via letter writing and queuing outside public phone boxes on windy nights to relay. It would have gathered legs, and reputations could/would be ruined before the real truth was revealed.

Conversation and information that travels via text messaging and social media is so instant and has the power to influence how we think and react. My innocent late night escapades reached my extended family and friends across the globe within hours and I spent the next few days explaining and justifying how I came to be naked in a bed with a complete stranger.

Thankfully the situation didn’t ‘damage’ my reputation although my many far flung family members and friends had a good laugh about it.

Damn it! Had it been a clandestine one night affair dya think I would/could have explained it so easily?

I don’t think so.

Destiny maybe the subconscious devil in us all…..