Intelligent Design? – You Hum It, I’ll Play it.

There was an interesting report on the BBC website today regarding whether “intelligent design” should be part of the school corriculum in the UK.

It’s one of those topics to be argued till blue in the face, but the subject matter was not what caught my eye. Campaigning in favor of the move was an ex-Head of Chemistry at Liverpool’s Blue Coat School. I have no idea if the reason he was ‘ex’ had to do with his views on the subject or not; neither do I care, but the mention of Blue Coat School brought back a flood of memories from so many years passed, that it seems almost tempting the Grim Reaper of Fate to dare remember them.

Blue Coat School was where, in July 1959, I took my Grade 1 (primary), and a few months later, Grade 2 (elementary) violin examinations. Both of which, I am happy to report, I passed with merit.

I have the two certificates in front of me now. Old parchment paper, yellowed, ripped across the folds, symbolic of an age that held such promise for a thirteen year old shivering with apprehension as he walked, violin case in hand, the mile or so alongside Liverpool’s famous River Mersey to the hallowed stone portals of Blue Coat School (founded 1708).

Not that the age of the building, or its imposing stonework, overawed me. After all, I lived on the ‘posh’ side of the Mersey away from the dirt and grime that plagued Liverpool in those fog-ridden days, and attended Calday Grange Grammar School for the Sons of Gentlefolk (circa 1636) founded a full sixty years before Blue Coat.

No, it was the grandeur of the occasion that overwhelmed. The letterhead bore a Royal coat of arms and in grandly ceremonial type announced its source to be, “The Associated Board of the Royal School of Music.” I patted my pocket for the umpteeth time to ensure it was still safe, before swallowing hard and entering through the high, imposing archway.

My parents were keen for me to learn a musical instrument, and a violin seemed somehow more portable than a piano or double bass. My teacher was a huge, pear-shaped German man, with an equally pear-shaped head, who went under the name of Gerhart Drechsler. His accomplishment with the violin was without question and, when not teaching, he was full-time Leader of the Chester Symphony Orchestra. My enthusiasm for the instrument welled from an equally intense dislike for mathematics. As those of us taking music missed a maths lesson to do so, it was worth having (I was convinced) an ex-Nazi and probable war criminal as a teacher.

So enthusiastic was my approach that before long Herr Drechsler suggested to my parents that such talent demanded additional private tuition at his home. While my folks were happy to pay the not unsubstantial sums involved, I was less than content with the arrangement. Herr Drechsler was a tough taskmaster and worked his pupils hard; the tuition followed after school, involved a half-hour bus ride there and back, hours of practise in my free time, and above all – I wasn’t benefitting from any fewer maths lessons.

Sadly, Blue Coat School never saw me return for my Grade 3 examination. Life outside music beckoned too strong, particularly that part involving the opposite sex. By my sixteenth birthday the violin had been relegated to a closet, later to be sold to the parents of another fresh-faced pre-pubescent eager to escape mathematics. Meanwhile, I’d saved my pocket money and bought an electric guitar. Well, it was the era of the Beatles, after all.

As for the contentious issue of Darwinism versus intelligent design, I’ve lived sixty years on this planet during which time I’ve certainly evolved, though whether through any “intelligent design”, I doubt. As I look back over the years to that thirteen year old amoeba who first dreamed of stardom on stage at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, then later on the stage of Liverpool’s Cavern Club – and achieved neither – I can’t help feeling glad my life has always been controlled by me, and not some intelligent, divine, source who thought it knew what was best. Otherwise, I may well have become a virtuoso violinist – and, frankly, I’d have hated it.

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7 Replies to “Intelligent Design? – You Hum It, I’ll Play it.”

  1. What a very interesting post. You have some very special memories. And you should take pride in what you were able to do. You know, that’s one of the best parts of these “tubes”. Someone like me gets to hear about the experiences you had as a kid. I would have never heard such a story if I hadn’t read your post today.

    As for the design part, I think we design our own lives and if we fail we have no one to blame but ourselves. What happens to us when we are kids makes us what we are as adults. We learn as kids and hopefully remember the lessons all through our lives.

  2. Pissed Off Patricia – welcome to Sparrow Chat’s new nest. I understand why you’re so pissed off with your country. I am too. I’m also pissed off with my own for becoming the 51st state of the Union, led there by Bush’s bum-boy Blair and his gang of political mercenaries, known colloquially as the British government. There is hope. With Bush hog-tied after the midterms, and Blair well on his way to a cosy retirement home on Murdoch’s News Corporation Board, or some similar lucrative little number, diplomacy may yet be resurrected from the quicksands of pre-emptive aggression into which it was thrust by the Bush/Blair coalition.
    Thank you for your complimentary words. I took great pride in playing the violin well, but was never intended to live a life dedicated to one art form. After five wives and twenty-eight jobs (interspersed between two fascinating careers) I could scarcely be labelled single-minded.
    Still, living that old maxim, “variety is the spice of life” has made for an interesting lifetime and one I would not have changed in any way -well, hardly any!
    I do hope you’ll revisit “Sparrow Chat” when time allows.

    PM – you know you’re always welcome here – especially when accompanied by a compliment. 😉

  3. Mr. Adams, aha! Yet another affinity binds us! I, too, studied the violin (only for eight years, however) as well as the piano, guitar, and lute. Violin was my first love, and I think I was a passable technician — but believe me, Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman, and the boys never had anything to fear from me!

    I passed my violin on to a young friend many years ago — and lost track of him. That leads me to believe he did not go on to become a rich and famous concert performer!

    Violins, oboes, and alto and tenor voices can always bring tears to my eyes to this day.

    Your recollections here are, as always, enchantingly presented — thanks for sharing!

  4. Xristi – Oh, you’re one up on me; I never learned the lute! Dabbled with piano, guitar, and of course the violin. My father never played anything till he was sixty – then he took up the clarinet. He became passably good and still has the occasional blow, though he complains his teeth rattle too much these days. He’s ninety-two!

  5. hi RJ. Sorry for not being here sooner but had a horrendous computer crash….i learn’t to play the cornet as an escape from drama! wish i could play the lute like xristim. i got to play in a championship section band in the UK in my teens so was a sort of ish good player. At the time i wanted to be a navigating officer onboard large crude oil carriers but failed the colour blind test so did something else. Funny how we change to make us what we are…never thought then as a spotty faced teenager that i would be an exile in france because my own country is not what it was! Nice new nest you have here…..

  6. AP – good to hear from you. Glad you could make the nest-warming. Hope your computer’s ok now. I was beginning to think you’d had a wine-flood in that cellar of yours, and died happy.

    I guess playing the cornet while navigating a crude oil carrier would be an advantage, especially when the foghorn packed up!

    Such internet talent. What a pity we can’t all form a cyberspace orchestra. Nobody’s thought of that yet!

    Hope you’re warmer than we are in Illinois right now. 32 and falling, 4-8 inches of the white stuff expected soon.

    Keep in touch.

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