The opening of the “Arts Centre for Disadvantaged Children” had been a great success with attendees including the Lord Mayor and several local dignitaries. Among those present, and a significant benefactor to the project, was the revered Mrs Mellidrew, a widow whose husband had died of boredom some years before. She had offered,somewhat firmly, to round off the delightful evening with one of her valued pianoforte recitals.
After sitting down and settling the music in front of her , she plays excerpts from Rachmaninov’s piano concerto No2. It is a powerful, emotive and evocative piece of music such as might be used in …. The scene is yours to choose. That is the wonder of music. Mrs Mellidrew operates the piano with a brisk and faultless efficiency which hits each note with accuracy, but somehow shreds all light and shade from the piece. Her audience nod painfully. They have had this experience before.
Despite this, they warmly applaud after the recital. “Simply wonderful” exclaims an anxious relative from the back of the room. “Masterful” concurs some gallant victim sited nearer the subject of their praise. “I’ve never heard it played better” pips up some old gent in a display of heroic falsehood, attracting bewildered looks from people near him. Perhaps we have all witnessed this occasion.
While those inside mingle and congratulate the good lady on her talents, a couple of friends who escaped early, hide outside and enjoy a soothing whisky . “My god that was awful” exclaims one. “I’ve had a better time at the dentist” says the other, marking their common agony . Sadly it is not the first time that Mrs Mellidrew has operated the piano in public. Possibly her considerable private fortune and charitable donations add weight to the applause, or am I being too cynical.
Her vulnerability to the opinion of the audience is muted by the contempt with which she views them. That they are too primitive to understand great music is their loss. Self knowledge can be a dangerous thing and she restricts her intake of it to the bare minimum. Finally at the end of the event, she moves towards her waiting car. “Thankyou again” says someone else. His voice has an undertone of relief . The event is over. . . When she has gone, the remaining throng act like people released from some health and safety lecture and trudge off to sooth their nerves with a mixture of abandon and relief.
Saying what you mean is important. But is it the same as meaning what you say. Perhaps we will have to ask the enlightened Mrs Mellidrew once she has finished her practise of “Air on a C string” or some note quite near it on the keyboard.