Happy Tracks

Sitting in the car singing along, I’m reminded to be eternally grateful for one of Chris Croft’s top tips from the Big Book of Happiness: get yourself a playlist of ‘Happy Tracks’.

Quite simply these are pieces of music which always make you happy. I’ve been building and editing mine for a year; and it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

From Sinatra to Leadbelly, Beyoncé to Chumbawumba, Finlandia to Bach; I’ve got every genre. Some came from the radio, some from Spotify – one I was reminded of over a supermarket tannoy…

But wherever I am: standing crushed by the stairs on a fully loaded bus, schlepping across a windswept Waterloo Bridge or bowling along on a Santander bike; ‘Happy Tracks’ reliably puts me on top of the world.

Happy days.

Unforgettable

Thinking back to my youth, I remember the sounds and smells of a steam-filled Sunday Roast kitchen at a great pal of mine’s house. Lamb, gravy, two types of potatoes and usually two pudding pies; fit for a King. 

And always in the background there’d be Nat King Cole, Sinatra and Louis Armstrong on the radio. 25 years on and that era of music always transports me back to a Lancashire kitchen.

Bittersweet then to hear of Teddy Mac (above) the ‘Songaminute man’ who at 80 has advanced Alzheimers, but still belts out a show tune in the car with his son, like in his holiday-camp pomp as a Butlin’s redcoat. 

Terry Jones the former Python has gone the same way we learn this week. And there but for the grace of God go us all.

But the uplifting story of Teddy Mac – whilst clearly no fairytale for his family – at least reminds us that the best memories and probably the most durable are often the simplest: a great tune, a tasty meal, a happy moment.

I’ve bought his rendition of “You make me feel so young” on iTunes; it makes me smile, and the proceeds go to Alzheimers research. I’ve also bought a copy for my pal, whose mum’s kitchen I’m sure I heard it in – it brings back happy memories.

Listen to You Make Me Feel So Young – Single by Teddy Mac – The Songaminute Man on @AppleMusic.


Joy

 

I’m not big on joy – more steady progress, appreciation, a bit of peace… Joy is one of those ‘hot’ emotions, which can feel like it’ll just cause me bother or be too much like hard work.

So imagine my surprise (having been dreading it for weeks) to be utterly joyful last evening, at a work event. 

We had a ceilidh which involved 90 minutes of lung-busting jigging around bumping into each other; swinging folk you hardly know around, ‘stripping the willow’ and prancing like the ‘gay Gordons’. 

I had a spill and hit the deck, as we sought to spin our foursome fast enough, for the two ladies to take off and fly with centrifugal force. I then nearly re-enacted the Large Hadron Collider with a Greek particle physicist in some poorly-coordinated galloping. What a laugh. Everyone finished hot, flushed, sweating and beaming. 

The last time I remember everyone beaming like this at my work, was at an awards night when the staff choir brought the room to life. And this has set me thinking…

I’ve been listening to Bach’s passions this week – and perhaps there’s something to be said for a bit more joy. Singing, dancing, music, performance; they’re as old as the hills. But they still make life feel worth living. Here’s to joy.

West Side Story

What a belting soundtrack! The number one selling US album of the 1960s; one listen and you know why. I’ve just written about ‘America’ on ‘Relevant Complexity’ but there’s any number of toe-tappers here.

Lovely to see my little Miss today tripping the boards among the ‘Jets’, backed by Bernstein’s punchy soundtrack and some great choreography, dance and fight scenes. A performance to remember and a soundtrack well worth rediscovering.

Leonard Bernstein’s ‘America’

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From the first hand clap to the final crescendo, it sets the hairs on the back of your neck tingling…

The hopes, the fears, the inequality and the immigrant’s fight for the right to the American Dream; Leonard Bernstein’s sprawling, madcap ‘America‘ is his home country’s very embodiment.

Having watched my daughter dance her socks off in her own ‘West Side Story’ today, and unable to shake the melody – I had to find the soundtrack.

Having tried half a dozen versions, for me the remastered Original Motion Picture Soundtrack has it best. Wonderful caterwauling and catcalling; and the most rumbustious, towering orchestral accompaniment.

Ballsy, brash and wonderful – just like the country, ‘America’ has it all.

West Side Story Original Soundtrack Recording

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Joy

Having just posted it on my other blog ‘Relevant Complexity‘, something about it felt to me like it deserved its place here too. Perhaps because the “Ode” brought joy to my day and lit up my week.

Beethoven’s 9th: Ode to Europe

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As I find my bearings in the ‘classical repertoire‘, there can be few finer guides than Canada’s National Art Centre’s Marjolaine Fournier and Jean-Jacques van Vlasselaer’s “Explore the symphony” podcasts.

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I stumbled upon this fabulous couple searching for the background to Prokofiev’s ‘Alexander Nevsky’; and in the process fell a little in love with Canada.

A country that has the imagination and culture to support, bring together and promote the French Canadian double bassist Fournier and the richly accented scholarship of van Vlasselaer, is a very fine country indeed.

And their podcast on Beethoven’s 9th Symphony reminds me what a fine continent Europe is too…

The 9th is Beethoven’s masterwork, and its “Ode to joy” is instantly familiar. But I was fascinated by van Vlasselaer’s story of who Beethoven was; and where he fits at the crossroads of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, bridging the Classical and Romantic periods. Beethoven with the “Ode” celebrates liberté, egalité and fraternité, at the dawn of artists as Artists – no longer paid retainers of aristocracy.

But what matters most is the music. As van Vlasselaer points out, a ‘masterwork’ is a masterwork, because for any age and any generation it is a source of wonder. We may all recognise, Beethoven’s 9th, but everyone should stop, marvel and listen to it again from time to time.

‘Ode to joy’ is also the anthem of the European Union – and was itself a direct product of the complex, interconnected peoples, borders, histories, ideals and culture which are ‘Europe’.

For all the challenges it faces in the 21st Century – and the bloody, brooding history it endured in the 20th – ‘Ode to joy’ reminds us of what Europe is; and can be, at its very best.

Beethoven – Symphony No 9, ‘Choral’ (LSO, Haitink)

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Last week, someone I’ve known for some years described me thus: ‘A generally glass half empty person, whose glass seems a bit fuller than usual’. Anther person countered: ‘No he’s not, I’ve never thought of him as gloomy, it’s just the way he describes things. Look at his socks’. Hmmm.

Truth is they’re probably both right, but I do feel quite cheerful these days. Happiness is a product of the mind, body and soul, but also what you do with your time and who you hang about with. Still happiness is sometimes in the eye the beholder.

I’m reading about the life of the great composer Handel (or Hendel as apparently you should pronounce him). And despite sometimes being described as gloomy in his latter years, when he lost his eyesight – an anecdote suggests he still had some good cheer.

On the suggestion that (as a great organist in his own right) he should share a performance with another great British blind organist, he roared: “But my dear man, this would be the blind leading the blind!”

Pondering it, I idly asked my son what he thought last night, as he brushed his teeth.

“Do you usually find me a happy person or a sad person?”

He thought about it for a minute and said.

“Hmmm. Somewhat in between.”

That’s about right, I reckon – but my glass is generally a bit fuller these days.

Relevant Complexity

Relevant Complexity Link

Here’s to a brand new year.

And to celebrate I’ve bashed out a new blog, based on what I’ve learned about life, the world and everything since I started Achilles and Aristotle in 2010.

Time flies – or rather it doesn’t; a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. But ‘Relevant Complexity’ was a fairly early discovery, I first wrote about it in January 2012 here.

Like all good things in the writing life, the more you write about it, the more you think about it, the more it changes you and what you do – Aristotle said as much.

I’ll plan to keep both blogs going: this one as a reminder of what I was up to in years to come; the new one to remind me to live for the day and enjoy a life full of ‘Relevant Complexity’.

Lights Down

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Months back – having discovered ‘relevant complexity’ in Saint Saëns Organ Symphony no 3 – I booked two tickets for the Royal Albert Hall.

After a long old week, neither me or the missus fancied it much. I tried to offload the tickets to my folks – nothing doing. So I asked my daughter if she wanted to go? ‘Why yes’ she said brightly.

Pace 6pm. And smartly dressed, armed with a bag of sweets, we set off. After a nice vanilla ice, we took our seats and had a good look at the splendid scene. Huge dome, red plush, gold fittings – and the enormous great organ which massively towers at one end of the Royal Albert Hall.

We reckoned that organ was about the size of our house; the illuminated organ ‘loft’ about the size of her bedroom. But a good deal tidier I pointed out to her; and a good job too or the organist would never find his music. She was not amused.

Then lights down, orchestra in, conductor up and away we went. Berlioz to get the players warmed up, then onto Saint Saëns. But my little one was nodding. A pale face, tired eyes, fiddling with her little shoulder purse – she was knackered.

A whisper: ‘How long to the organ?’ 12 minutes I said. A minute later ‘how long to the organ Dad?’ Five minutes I lied. Five minutes later: ‘how long to the organ?’ Two minutes I gestured silently.

And her eyes gently closed and she was asleep. Moments later BAHHHM! And the roof of the Albert Hall nearly blew off. Her eyes snapped open. ‘That’s the organ’ I said.

She stared wide eyed. And then the lead in her eyelids weighed them down again. And silently she slept through one of the loudest crescendos – on one of the largest organs in the world. Just a twitch of her brow at the final booming finale which made your tripes vibrate.

Proud of her. She did great. A memorable night out and a good chuckle. We were both shattered. But sometimes you have to dig deep to get the best from life. A night out with my big brave girl was a performance I’ll remember forever.

Train Strains

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Bejesus it’s hard work not to be bothered by folk on public transport. Keeping sane on a packed train is a formidable test of the mind. As a friend pointed out, its all just sensory data. But we are hardwired to react.

My virtual friend Rohan – on his Buddhify meditation App – describes travel as pulling your attention all over the place. And my consciousness is being jolted and jostled as we begin to rattle along.

The respectable older lady next to me is assailing me with her ageing Burger King and fries. What’s she doing eating that? Then there’s a sweaty backpacker attempting to impress his girlfriend with mild boorishness. Ah the naiveté of young love. And of my own choosing – in a desperate attempt to block them out – Saint Saëns Symphony no 3 in my headphones.

Saint Saëns has it by a nose. But the fries are fighting hard up my nostrils. The carriage strip lighting is pretty penetrating too. It’s a good test of whether I can rest.

But the right classical music, at the right time is a lifesaver, I increasingly discover with the passing of the years. If in doubt, screen it out with a decent bit of orchestral – now there’s something I’d never have thought I’d say 20 years ago. Music maestro please.