Brahms & Reflection

In the time it takes me to drive to university I can listen to the whole of Brahms’s First Symphony. This morning, having run through the rain to get to my car, I abandoned Radio 4 in favour of Johannes. They were discussing Donald Trump and, frankly, I’m tired of hearing about that man.

Brahms’s First Symphony was one of the pieces I encountered on a fabulous 3rd year module I choose, which examined the link between Music and Literature in the Nineteenth Century. We were taught by a particularly eloquent and inspiring Brahms specialist and, before this module, Brahms was little more than a name to me. I was familiar with his cello sonatas, but nothing else. As the year progressed, however, I listened to his first symphony with increasing frequency, and eventually branched out into his other works. I now have a stack of Brahms CDs in my car, which are played on a circuit (with the occasional bit of Chopin thrown in.)

I have found that there is something about Brahms’s music that makes me very reflective, and so I felt myself becoming increasingly nostalgic and introspective as I drove through the rain on this particular Wednesday morning. I sang along with the first movement, chasing the melody with increasing gusto, and by the end of the second movement I was fighting back the tears. It brought back memories and filled me with such a strong sense of longing that I really wanted to pull over and have a good cry! I find music incredibly affecting, and Brahms’s symphonies have a particularly strong impact on me. I feel frequently overjoyed and immensely grateful that events conspired to bring Brahms’s music into my life. Call it what you will – chance, fate, serendipity – it’s just plain wonderful. I will make it my personal mission to expose the children I teach to as much music as possible, in the hope that they find something that moves them as deeply.

I have been pondering recently how much my life has changed in the past 12 months. Facebook occasionally throws up posts which run along the line of ‘on this day X years ago XYZ happened’, and then proceeds to show you a particularly fetching picture of your younger self, or an old status. Today, an old status popped up. It was innocuous enough and only from last year, but it brought home once more how much has altered in that 12 month period.

This time last year I hadn’t even secured a place on the PGCE course I’m now on. I was in a relationship and felt that I had a clear idea of how my life was going to progress in that regard. 3rd year was challenging me greatly, and yet I had never been so inspired or interested. I wouldn’t go so far to say I loved it all, but the Music and Literature module I mentioned above engaged me on a whole new level. I continue to think on many of the  ideas we discussed, and listen to the music we studied. It surpassed the boundaries of the module and has become part of me in ways I could never have foreseen.

And so, I feel greatly changed in many ways, and those changes are primarily down to how other people have influenced me. Conversations I had with people over the course of the year encouraged me to think differently, to broaden my horizons and think beyond the ‘life plan’ that I had constructed and followed for so long. I have looked into the possibility of teaching in Ireland, for example, which is something that I would never have considered in October 2015. I have also thought about going somewhere to do an MA in a few years. After my first two years of university, I was absolutely ready to be done with higher education and to never return. And yet, because of the people I encountered – both academically and personally – it has become something that could happen.

The people that affected me most are with me every day. At university, they are there in the memories that the place holds. I half-expect to bump into friends on the library steps, or meet my Music and Literature lecturer coming out of the department. None of those things will happen because they are no longer at the university, but they are still somehow present. Likewise, when I listen to certain pieces of music, I am reminded of classes with particular people, and it’s a comfort. Physical distance can sometimes make you feel isolated from the people you’ve had so much contact and conversation with over the previous 3 years, and their sudden absence can make you feel painfully lonely. I have certainly experienced this acute sense of loss, but in many ways, music has helped me to feel connected with them.

I have really not wanted to blog over the last 3 months or so, but there was something about this morning that felt important enough to share. The influence that other people can have over people – or that you can have over someone – is relatively unknown. Most people do not set out to influence. In the teaching word, many teachers want to inspire and to share the love of their subject, but I’d wager few would say, “I want to influence students in XYZ way.” As a teacher, I would like students to be inspired enough to find out more. Not to just sit through my lessons and then leave, not thinking about the topics we’ve discussed or the music we’ve listened to before the following lesson. I would like them to leave curious, to go and look up the music and have a second/longer listen. To understand the relevancy and potency of Beethoven, Mahler, or Brahms, and to learn to love it as much as the songs they would instinctively seek out. It’s a huge ask and, in all probability, my successes will be small compared to my failures. But, if I can inspire one, two, three students in the way that I have been inspired, I will be delighted…

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By the time I’d got to university, the sun was out. A real life ad astra per aspera archetype!
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