Thursday, 31 March 2011

Round Stones

When the Japanese pianist, Noriko Ogawa, read Out of Silence by Susan Tomes, she was so impressed she decided to translate it into her own language. Earlier this week, the two pianists came together to discuss the challenges of translating a book like this into Japanese (the various nuances of ‘practice’ in Japanese, did Susan Tomes write in a woman’s voice or a man’s voice, and so on). Their meeting was recorded and broadcast by BBC Radio 4 on their Women’s Hour programme. Here, by way of a reminder, is one of Noriko Ogawa’s favourite pieces from the book. Perhaps it is a cliché to suggest that the Zen calm of this extract appealed to her.

Back in the days when I used to play for the string masterclasses at Prussia Cove, I developed the habit of going for a walk along the beach by myself after the classes to dispel the tensions of the day. My job was to play the piano for the violinists, viola players or cellists who were having a lesson. The lessons took place in front of a roomful of other gifted students and visiting teachers from all over the world, so the atmosphere was always intense and the stakes high. I wasn’t having a lesson myself, but this didn’t stop certain teachers from including me in their personal criticisms and tantrums, and I sometimes needed to remind myself afterwards that there were things in life other than music.

I walked slowly along the beach, looking for interesting stones. My method was not to look for anything consciously, but just sweep the beach with my gaze and let the stones call to me. I took them back to my room and kept them on the windowsill as talismans, though I usually liberated them back to the beach before I went home. As I walked on the beach, waiting for ‘interesting’ ones to present themselves, I realised that I was always drawn to stones which were smooth and round. This may not be most people’s idea of interesting stones, but it’s mine. I am fascinated by the thought of the multiple forces of wind and water which have to work on a rough piece of rock for years and years to convert it into something smooth and round. Such tremendous forces from so many different directions: what are the chances of them making something round? Far easier to imagine how the clash of asymmetrical forces could produce jagged, dramatic shapes with attention-seeking personalities. There were plenty of those theatrical stones on the beach, but I passed by on another track. I see the round stones as survivors of a long process of buffeting. They hold more secrets.

Out of Silence by Susan Tomes is available from all good booksellers. Her earlier book, Beyond the Notes, largely concerning her time with Domus, remains in print. Both are published by the Boydell Press.

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