Saturday, February 20, 2016

bach to the future

This afternoon I attended a memorial service for a friend from college. Nigel was at Merton for eight years, starting before me, and was CU Rep there the year before me. He died two years ago. He was a kind, gentle, generous man.

Nigel was softly spoken and always thoughtful. He constantly encouraged me as I organised the CU with Karen Wilson, and when he and I would occasionally bump into each other through the years that quiet encouragement would always shine through.

The last time we met was in the college chapel in Merton just before Easter in 2014. He was as gracious as ever. We shared stories briefly. He smiled his melancholy smile; our parting words were that we would meet there again at  some other choir event.

The gathering today was filled with friends from thirty years ago. It was lovely to see familiar faces - and also to suddenly realise that one or two unfamiliar faces were in fact also simply familiar ones subtly obscured by the mists of passing time. Some folk have hardly changed at all; some of us (I include myself) are pretty obscure now.

David, Andrew, Claudia, Carolyn, Mike, Ann, Frances, Louise, Ruth - it was like Wednesday nights of old; how marvellous to see you all and to hear the tiniest fragments of the last thirty years. Thankfully most will be back in Oxford for the college Gaudy (reunion) after Easter. Louise reminded me of an occasion I had all but forgotten; I did the same for her. Her reading of Ephphatha in Mark's Gospel has never left me... One person recounted seeing a gathering of former students from the 1950s when we were undergraduates and thinking how ancient those folk were.

Of course, they were from thirty years before our time. We are now their equivalents. It's back to the future. Our faces almost fit, our voices almost match, our smiles almost work - even in memoriam - though the Porter's Lodge has electric doors, and there are chairs at some of the tables in Hall rather than benches, and someone has landed a behemoth of an organ where once in chapel there was a dainty faux-baroque thing on stilts.

Yet: this afternoon I discovered that now again in Blackwells Music Shop it is possible to acquire LPs - genuine vinyl. And so it was Bach to the Future for me, as just before the service I bought Alfred Brendel playing JSB. I think it's illegal now to play Bach like this, but you can get a permit to own a recording if it comes at 33 1/3 rpm.

Nigel was a fine pianist, and he loved Bach. I think he'd enjoy Brendel's playing, and the warmth of the sound I am listening to as I type this.

It has a gentleness, a soft melancholy, a kindness to it that is rather wonderful. My world is all the better for it.