In 1972, with a number, I can't remember how many, of other young Cambridge musicians, I was selected to be part of the exchange trip to Heidelberg. These began in 1962, hence the fiftieth anniversary celebrations at which I write these reminiscences. In alternate years a group would make its way from one city to the other, in odd years from Germany to England, and in even years in the other direction, for ten days, more or less, of rehearsal and a final concert.
It was a natural development from the highly successful Cambridge Schools Holiday Orchestra, founded by Molly Gilmour and Ludovick Stewart, the latter the County Music Adviser. Sadly successive governments, of both parties, have dismantled the infrastructure supporting music in schools, and County Music Advisers are no more, but for more of the background, see Ludovick's sister's book, Frida Knight’s Cambridge music, from the middle ages to modern times, Cambridge: Oleander, 1980. I don't know if Molly and Ludovick are still alive. I hope so, though it may be unlikely, but I hope they knew how much pleasure they gave to young people, their families and their audiences.
I remember presenting myself, a frightened eleven-year-old, at the Cambridge Grammar School for Girls on Parker's Piece one Easter holiday with my clarinet. I had not known, when I chose this instrument, quite how popular it was. I think we may have had five or six desks of clarinets, nearly as many as there were violins. Advice to the young person: if you wish to get on in music, take up an unpopular instrument: you will always be in demand.
I knew of the Heidelberg connection, and had been to one of their concerts. As I grew older, my more accomplished contemporaries were invited to join the Heidelberg trip. I had to wait until I was seventeen. Even then, at the first rehearsal, I remember being shocked by the musicianship and professionalism of our hosts, and wondering how I, at least, would measure up to their high standards.
This weekend I flew to Frankfurt, and then took a train; in those days we went on a coach, by ferry and through Belgium. In those days too, Germany seemed different. so much more foreign, and not so distant from the country describe by Christopher Isherwood in his Berlin stories, or by Jerome K. Jerome in Three Men on the Bummel. I was dangerously addicted to light comic literature in those days.
Our trip was led by Geoff Varley, music teacher at the Grammar School for , and a highly skilled clarinettist. It is always daunting when the conductor plays your instrument. It's easy to baffle a conductor from a string-playing background with talk of reeds, pads and embouchure, but with Geoff there was no hiding place. He managed us firmly but kindly, even when faced with some of the more extreme activities that young people in the early seventies got up to.
I wish I could remember the repertoire we rehearsed. The things that stay with me are the social activities: an evening drinking white wine and playing chess in a cafe where they provided boards, the height of sophistication to me, a walk one hot afternoon up one of the mountains, where we came upon an amphitheatre built, I was told, by the Nazis for rallies, and, overcoming the sombre reflections that sight induced, ending at a house where a young woman plied me with her father's schnapps. I wish we could say we entertained the Germans as well in Cambridge; I fear it may have been an anti-climax, though punting, the enduring pleasure to be had by watching people fall, fully-clothed, into the Cam, was always popular with the visitors.
For the final concert, I remember the grandeur of the Stadt-Halle, and the heat, which made tuning a nightmare. I had an exposed passage to play; thank heavnes it passed off well.
I remember too finding a radical bookshop near the university. I had thought, since I was so near the region in which Marx first became active, to buy some Marx in German and use it to strengthen my shaky grip on that beautiful language. In the event I bought a recording of the Internationale, sung by the East Berlin Rundfunk Choir.
Our hosts were charm and courtesy itself, even in that most difficult year, that of the Munich Olympics. I remember sitting in a darkened room with the Dobbeling family, watching in silence the events in the Olympic Village, which were broadcast to the world, perhaps the first time such an event was watched live. I and others wondered if the concert could still go ahead, but it did, a testament to the ability of music to heal and unite.
The other advice I would offer to the young musician is don't give up your instrument, your skill, your ability to make the world better. I did, and regret it, never more than when I heard the wonderful concert last night. In a few minutes I shall go to a day of open rehearsal and socialising. It may spark more memories for a third post.