Didn't your Mother ....?

Submitted into Contest #26 in response to: Write about a character who was raised in a musical family.... view prompt

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You could hire me as a mind-reading act, and pretty impressive I’d be too. As long as you stuck to one sentence, that is. To that sentence beginning “Didn’t your mother …..?”

     Then I know what’s coming. Not Once live next door to us? Not Have a dog called Puggles? Not Make wonderful coffee and walnut cake?

     No. It was always “Didn’t your mother write Tapestry?”

     And she did, and I’m proud of her and think it’s a beautiful piece of music, and my heckles rise when people call it cheesy, but then I’m a cheese-lover.

     But yes, it can get the teeniest bit tedious, and not least because she did write other things too! It makes things worse that her – our (she was a single Mum) surname is unusual, and she’s never used a pen-name. I’ve never met anyone else called Covenley, though the Irish deputy prime minister is called Coveney. When she was at school she suffered from it rhyming with slovenly and was determined to reclaim it, which is all fine and good and laudable, but the jokes went on even unto the next generation. Luckily, as well as Mum’s name, I’ve also inherited some of her way with words – as a weapon if needs must! - and my schooldays were fairly happy.

     Mum is the kind of musician and songwriter who will only ever have a stub as her Wikipedia page, though she often turns up in the footnotes of other people’s. Come to think of it, the song has a longer entry than she does. 

     I call it a song, and don’t worry, I’m not going to come over all technical and pretentious, but it’s actually part of a larger work called Requiem for Rhiannon which she wrote at one of her uncle’s request in honour of one of her aunts. It wasn’t even as if she knew Aunt Rhiannon and Uncle Grant that well, though that was only because of physical distance, not estrangement. She was just starting to make her way in the musical world then, and her parents were just, tentatively, beginning to realise that giving her musical career their blessing hadn’t, perhaps, been such a bad idea after all. She’s kept the letter Uncle Grant wrote, and I have to admit it’s rather touching.

     Rhiannon always led one of those quiet lives, without drawing much attention to herself, but it had its own rich tapestry and if you could do something for her, Kitty, love, it would be wonderful and I would appreciate it.

     Rhiannon had not just been the maker of the tapestry of her life – she was a skilled needlewoman, and all over the country, further than that, probably, there were people who had the cushion covers and wall hangings she had made for them. I did not need to be told, when I went to her funeral, that she had done nearly all the kneelers in the church, too.

     Rhiannon had always been modest, and spoke of herself as a craftswoman rather than an artist, but sometimes there was the colour combination that took you by surprise and then, suddenly, worked far better than the expected one, and a flower not quite blooming where it should, and a border picked out in delicate thread calligraphy. 

     Mum ‘s work, and not just that one, was the same. You’d have said it was fairly conventional; no unusual instruments, even that it fell into that much-maligned “crossover” category. But there was always that little quirk, that little surprise, that blending of keys and tones and rhymes (though she had occasionally set friends’ poems, she was generally her own lyricist) and images that was out of the ordinary.

     The tune of Tapestry was in a minor key, but melancholic rather than mournful. At the end it resolved into a major – she told me that was called a Picardie Third. The end of the Coventry Carol would give you an idea of what I mean. 

And now, the needle’s still, the threads at rest,

and no more in and out and intertwining,

and no more newborn colour cresting and combining,

but, forever, living still, the best

of what was dreamt and breathed and thought

and patiently, and in a reverie,

and concentration rapt and taut,

woven into tapestry,

     That’s the first verse. I could quote it all, but I won’t, not this time. She originally wrote it, though the whole work could be adapted to suit piano, or organ, or small orchestra, or just be sung a capella if the choir of soloist were up to it, to be sung to the acoustic guitar – playing it herself in its premier, in a little church in the Welsh Mountains. Later on, she wrote a version that could be sung to the harp, and said she wished she’d done it in time for the service. You’ll hear it just as an instrumental, too, but personally I much prefer it with the words.

     So, yes, it’s a beautiful song, and I’m proud of my Mum. But it can still sometimes feel like a very lovely, very delicate, benign but overbearing millstone round my neck. 

     As the much-used phrase goes, it captured people’s imagination. Some of it was just coincidence. Rhiannon, in that quiet way of hers that Grant recalled with such love and gratitude, had been quite a pillar of the community, and the Mayor, Graham Price, had been at the ceremony. The thing is, Mr Price’s brother Anthony, worked for a music publishing company. He said himself that he was, at most, a big fish in a small sea, but that small sea was an ideal habitat for Requiem for Rhiannon and especially for Tapestry

     It was not an overnight success and did not make headlines. But it – if you’ll pardon the laboured metaphor – it struck a chord. And it proved to be enduring. It’s even been selected on Desert Island Discs a couple of times (though Mum had mixed feelings about that – in one instance it was picked by a politician she had described as a patronising populist prat – don’t fall into the mistake of thinking that musicians are all universally gentle souls no matter what the provocation!). I reminded her that Hitler had liked Wagner and so did she, so it didn’t necessarily signify, but just got an old-fashioned look for my pains. 

     Normally we’re quite a cheery lot in the staffroom at the Dr Barnado’s Academy (by the way, most of the pupils have comfortable homes and loving parents, it’s just called AFTER him rather than following in his footsteps!) but last week there was a pall over things. Our colleague and, in many cases, friend, Ruth Mason, was absent. As the head-teacher, Eric Lloyd, told us, quietly, her husband had passed away. We’d known he hadn’t been in the best of health, but it still came as a shock.

     Ruth was back at work two days later. Eric began to gently tell her that it wasn’t necessary, she could have all the compassionate leave she needed, but she shook her head. “Thanks, Eric, but I’m better working.”

     We were all worried, but at the lunchbreak she told us that the students couldn’t have been kinder and more caring. I wasn’t surprised. Like most teachers I’m not dewy-eyed about children, but also think they tend to be much-maligned. “The thing is,” she said, “After the lesson, one of them called me over and asked if I’d decided on the music for the funeral,” she determinedly spoke the word. “And – I would really love it to include Tapestry.” She gave a sad smile, “Hal wasn’t one of those men who did needlework, though he could darn his socks if need be. But he loved the song – I didn’t mention it to you because, I know you must get sick of hearing about it sometimes. But – would it be okay with you if we played it at the funeral?”

     “Of course,” I said at once, giving her a little hug. “But I think we can do better than that.”

     And I have never been so proud of my Mum as I was today when, in a church filled with smiles and tears and happy memories and the inevitable regrets, she stood on the dais, and the organ had fallen silent, and the organist, along with us all, listened to her softly sing Tapestry to the accompaniment of her own guitar.


January 31, 2020 08:15

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