Let’s try to recapture some of the magic of childhood

Congratulations to Evelyn Glennie - awarded the Polar Prize for Music

Congratulations to Evelyn Glennie – awarded the Polar Prize for Music

Dame Evelyn Glennie is a wonderful percussionist. I have been fortunate to see her perform on several occasions. One of the most memorable of these performances was as soloist for James Macmillan’s Veni Veni Emmanuel at the the Derngate Concert Hall in Northampton. She must be amongst the most vibrant and enthusiastic performers to ever grace the concert platform. I was therefore delighted this morning to hear on the radio that she had been awarded the prestigious Polar Music Prize.

Evelyn Glennie has often asserted that she is a musician who does not want to be “pigeon holed” or labelled according to the music she plays. Equally at home with a full orchestra playing pieces written by classical composers, or with a small avant-garde group accompanying the Icelandic performer Bjork, she is an adventurous musician who is always looking for opportunities to do something new.

Just as she does not wish to see perceptions of her musicianship limited, she is equally adamant that she does not want to be labelled as a deaf musician. This despite the fact that she has been profoundly deaf since she was twelve years old. Glennie feels the music at least as well as most of us can hear it.

“There’s no such thing as total deafness,” she told a reporter on BBC radio this morning. “If the body can feel, that is a form of hearing. Sound is vibration, that’s what it is.”

I have heard her make similar suggestions on several occasions before, but it was something else she said this morning that caught my attention. Evelyn Glennie is approaching her fiftieth birthday and was asked by the interviewer to reflect on how she felt about this in the context of her distinguished musical career. Her immediate response was to say that she still felt like a child. When asked to elaborate on this comment, she stated that she felt that she could still view her music and experiences of the world with the same enthusiasm and pleasure that we associate with children.

What a wonderfully life affirming statement I thought. Here is an eminent professional who clearly values the sense of awe and wonder that children experience with each new discovery. Evelyn Glennie in making this claim reinforces the importance of respecting the ways in which children view the world, and the excitement that they gain from learning. Her comment this morning made me smile above my muesli! It also made me wonder whether we all ought to make a little more effort to try and recapture some of the magic of our youth and channel it into the work we do today.

I am not suggesting that we become childish, which I see as being distinctly different from being child like. The first implies a level of immaturity that we should make every effort to leave behind, the second a state that we should perhaps try to recapture.

As I write this I am seated at Heathrow airport awaiting a flight to Brazil. It occurs to me that I have a recording of Evelyn Glennie on my phone and that I have an opportunity to listen to this and celebrate this wonderful musician and her achievements during the long trip ahead. I must also make a note to myself to ensure that I work towards achieving a more childlike state!


You can listen to Evelyn Glennie perform Rhythmic Caprice by Leigh Howard Stevens  by watching the link below



Marmalade sandwiches, mayhem and revolution – all in one bear!

Mischievous, amusing and often prepared to challenge conventional thinking. Paddington Bear is a hero to many children.

Mischievous, amusing and often prepared to challenge conventional thinking. Paddington Bear is a hero to many children.

The period leading up to Christmas in the UK has a built-in, comfortable predictability, which I’m sure ultimately contributes greatly to the cosiness of the festive season. Houses and streets are illuminated by flashing lights of variable quality and taste, Christmas markets become a feature of almost every town, carol services provide one of the few occasions when church pews can expect to be full, and the tinny music that characterises shops throughout the year gives way to equally discordant renditions of kitsch Yuletide pop songs.

Similarly predicable, and anticipated with equal amounts of enthusiasm or indifference, is the inevitable Christmas blockbuster film, released just in time to attract an audience of children and families as they get into the mood for the coming celebrations. Sometimes these films prove to be a great success and well beloved of the public, in which case they will become an annual feature on our Christmas television screens. Others appear as a damp squib and disappear, forgotten to all but a few cinematic diehards, never to be seen again.

This year there is considerable ground for optimism that the major end of year release, a film based upon the adventures of Paddington Bear, a long established hero for many children and not a few adults, will be a great hit with audiences. Reviews of the film have been wholly favourable, and the few people I know who have seen, it state categorically that it is a joy for children from the ages of five to ninety, (why it is unsuitable for ninety five year olds I don’t quite understand). The film Paddington appears to have achieved that elusive quality, shared with others such as Mary Poppins, of being able to attract both adults and children alike to enjoy a shared cinema experience.

Michael Bond, the eighty eight year old creator of Paddington Bear recalls how

 “I bought a small toy bear on Christmas Eve 1956. I saw it left on a shelf in a London store and felt sorry for it. I took it home as a present for my wife Brenda and named it Paddington as we were living near Paddington Station at the time. I wrote some stories about the bear, more for fun than with the idea of having them published. After ten days I found that I had a book on my hands. It wasn’t written specifically for children, but I think I put into it the kind things I liked reading about when I was young.”

“A Bear Called Paddington” the first book was published in 1958 and has been followed by many others. The bear, attired in duffle coat and hat became an immediate favourite with children and continues to educate and entertain through his extraordinary mishaps in everyday situations. I have always found the character appealing, as he often rails against bureaucracy and petty regulations, challenges convention and cant, and has a strong sense of justice. When reading the books to children I have at times felt that I could hear the author’s somewhat non-conformist voice coming through the text.

This morning on BBC Radio 4 Michael Bond was interviewed about his books and the film, and made a number of interesting observations about how childhood has changed since he first started writing the Paddington books more than fifty years ago. In particular he reflected on the fact that children are expected to grow up much more quickly than they used to, and that they lose their innocence at an early age.

Clearly we cannot turn back the clock. Notions that there was ever a “golden age” of childhood are probably unfounded and change is inevitable. But there was something particularly sad in the tone of voice with which this respected writer suggested that the pressures on today’s children are greater than in the past.

It is indeed sad that the time to play and explore, that was a formative feature of many of our earlier years, is now undervalued by many who make and implement educational and social policy. Although the pressures are not as great here in the UK as in some other countries, the rush to formalise learning and leave the adventures of play behind is increasingly apparent.

Thank goodness for the joyous spirit that can still be instilled in children by writers such as Michael Bond. I do hope that for many years to come, Paddington Bear will be thriving on his favoured diet of marmalade sandwiches and debunking the pomposity at which he has laughed for the past fifty and more years.

Michael Bond wrote a new short story of Paddington Bear to celebrate his new venture into film. To hear the actor Jim Broadbent, who plays a major role in the film, read the story, click on the link below.