Thursday, 13 May 2010

Tales from the Not Too Distant Past - First Lessons in Absurdity

‘Spread out, children, make sure there’s lots of space around you - you’re going to be lovely tall trees in the forest, so you’ll all have to have lots and lots of room.’
The words come from a pale wooden speaker on the wall by the window. They are accompanied by a torrent of tinny music.
‘Can you hear the wind rushing through you, can you hear it in the woodwind - that’s right, bend and billow, feel the way it buffets you, back and forth, nice big movements, feel that huge strong wind.’
Twenty-five pairs of arms swing wildly about in the stuffy air of the school gym (which doubles as the assembly hall).
‘The storm’s slowing down now,’ the bright female voice continues, ‘the music’s getting quieter, can you tell?’
There is slightly less timpani than before, now that you bother to listen.
‘All our trees have to grow quieter too,’ the unseen woman informs us, ‘we need to stop swaying. Stop moving, trees, it’s time to stand still again.’
As the wild hurling about dies down, the sound of someone crying becomes audible amongst us. Emily Anderson has managed to whack Arabella on the nose – probably on purpose.
‘Now the sun’s coming out in the forest,’ the voice ploughs on, relentless, ‘and your branches are stretching up to reach the beams of sunlight. Stretch those arms, stretch them up, that’s right, that’s the way. Can you push them up above your heads - really high, right up. Yes, feel those branches, feel them growing, feel them reaching up, up, up into the sky.’
And on and on it goes. She wants us to curl ourselves up and become rocks next, and after that we have to be tiny creeping creatures. She exhorts us to be bits of wheat thrusting our way out of the farmer’s well-tilled ground, ‘sprouting, rising through the earth, swaying together in the morning air.’
And we do it all, as best we can. We carry out her commands with dogged, obedient care - not just once but at least a couple of times a week. Without a murmur of protest, we put on our vests and our shorts and our black gym shoes (or plimsolls as they insist on calling them) and troop downstairs to the hall, where we try to follow the dotty instructions she gives us. We know it’s crazy. We know we look like a bunch of demented writhing halfwits. But we don’t complain. We don’t refuse. We certainly do not laugh scornfully or start to look sulky. We don’t even dream of saying, ‘Miss, this is lame’.
‘Show me how you can be waves, children, up and down, that’s it, great big waves crashing against the cliffs - and now little waves, low down on the floor, tiny waves coming into shore.’
More fool us – but then we are all too scared to say anything. Which is not to say we don’t wonder. We do. What the hell is 'Music and Movement' about – that’s what we wonder. Even now, I have absolutely no idea.


  1. Ah yes, Music and Movement. I distinctly remember William L. (aged 7, quite tubby, farmer's son), upon being directed to make like a bird flapping its wings and floating on the breeze, sitting defiantly on the floor of the gym while we gyrated around him. Miss Johnson (aged about 65, ethereal, kind-hearted) asked him to get up immediately. "No, Miss, I'm a nesting duck. I can't leave my eggs." Cue mayhem.

  2. Any more reminiscences of RADA?

  3. Perhaps I should have had some of these music and movement lessons. Might have saved me from the shame of my current dancing abilities

  4. Sophie - 'Reader I married him?' (He does sound as if he'd be a big help with the chldren)
    Gaw - Is that what they do? Is that what we were being trained for? At last an answer.
    Worm - Judging from my own feeble dancing abilities (ability is not actually a word I should use in this context) I'd have to say no.

  5. Tee hee, zmkc, but no. Said boy is still living in the village where he was reared, but now a prosperous lawyer. Make of that what you will.

  6. Sophie - I suppose he worked hard and never counted his chickens before they were hatched