Last week I attended a memorial service for a man who had a great influence on my life.
Norman Routledge was my housemaster at school nearly 40 years ago. He saw me through what were unquestionably my most challenging and yet formative years.
There was a service in the school chapel. It was packed, not least because so many of my former housemates wanted to be there to pay their respects. It was an hour of memories, spiritual uplift, and above all culture.
We listened to the Andante from Bach’s Violin Sonata in A minor. It sounded wonderful in the huge acoustic of the chapel, started by Henry VI in 1441. As I listened I found myself gazing at the medieval wall paintings, and wondering why I had never taken time to look at them more closely whilst I was at the school.
My friend Julian Godlee sang Nella Fantasia by Ennio Morricone. I’d not heard it before. Accompanied by the wonderful Hill organ at one end of the chapel and with Julian singing from the other end, the effect was mesmerising.
The choir sang Te Lucis Ante Terminum by Henry Balfour Gardiner, one of my favourites. They sounded fantastic – the tenors sounded so much stronger than I remember when I was there. This was musicianship of a very high order indeed. I’m inserting it here, sung by the choir of St Paul’s Cathedral, in case you’ve never heard of it. Cathedral music doesn’t get any better, in my very humble opinion. If you have 6 minutes to spare, and trust my judgement, turn up the volume (even better put on headphones) and LISTEN.
As a teenager I was surrounded by this quality at every turn. World class in so many fields; architecture, sports, music, drama, and of course education.
Did I realise it at the time? Nah. Well, kind of. I knew it was special, but I had no idea just how special. Given another go, I’d have spent so much more time hoovering it all up. researching it, squeezing it dry of what it had to offer.
So what stopped me? It got me wondering about this. I think there are various possibilities:
- After a certain point, all this culture becomes overload, and you can’t take it in
- Learning how to appreciate something is a skill you acquire over time, and as a teenager this muscle is not fully developed
- It is all so much more vivid to a 55 year old because he has a sense of his own mortality, which as a teenager you completely lack – you think you’re going to live for ever
- Deep down, when you’re 16 you are far more interested in your love life and getting through your exams than you are in soaking up “culture”
- You don’t know what you’ve got until someone takes it away from you.
I know I was not alone in feeling like this. Many of my school comrades were saying they wanted to get together more often, so that we could indulge our senses again and relive some of what the place has to offer. I’m up for that.
After the service we went over the school hall, were we sang (?shouted) a couple of our favourite house songs as if we had last rehearsed them only yesterday. I accompanied on the piano (a Steinway concert grand, of course), and much to my surprise found that my fingers hadn’t completely seized up.
Action: buy another piano (the old one died) and relearn how to play it.
Note to self: appreciate what you have in front of you, staring you in the face right here and now. There probably won’t be another 40 years in my case, so better learn to soak it up while you can.
You only get one go.
Thanks for the memories, Norman. Your spirit lives on.