I recently contributed to a BBC Radio 4 programme called Soul Music where a group of people talk about their emotional attachment to a piece of music. The one I was asked to speak about was Prelude à L’Après-midi d’un Faune by Debussy.
At BBC’s Broadcasting House I was ushered into the studio by the very patient and professional producer Maggie Ayre who recorded my story. When I’d briefly chatted to Maggie beforehand about why I loved this music, I felt quite matter-of-fact about it and despite having a few nerves on the actual recording day about what the hell my voice would sound like, I didn’t feel particularly emotional at the start.
But what I hadn’t banked on was the more I spoke about my experiences, the more the memories came flooding back until my voice began to crack and I ended up crying into the microphone.
The memories that I’d unearthed was of living in Paris in a tiny one-bedroomed apartment with my husband and our two sons. This apartment was so small that our eldest son Isaac had the small mould-stained bedroom, me and my husband Jean-Baptiste were on a creaky sofabed in the living room and my new-born baby Blake had a travel cot in an actual understairs cupboard. (We later teased him that he was like Harry Potter living with the Dursleys.) We had drug-dealers living downstairs, shift workers to the right of us who would arrive home noisily at four in the morning, a couple to the left of us who liked singing ‘Sonny’ in thick French accents on a piano late at night and a couple upstairs who would alternately shag really loudly, then fight, then round off the evening with loud guitar strumming the same song again and again. Who says Paris is the capital city of romance? Whoever it is, I'd love to show them 2 Rue Haxo in the 20th arrondissement of Paris circa January 2009.
Despite the difficulties, I had such a fondness for Paris for what it had given me – a writing career, a city full of culture and excitement, a bunch of lovely friends, and of course my little family. But motherhood isn’t always as rosy as Catherine Kidson crockery and the birth of my second son brought with it a heap of issues. If you listen to the broadcast, you’ll hear why but the end result was a hefty dose of post-natal depression.
(Here’s the link to the programme: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09z5j2m)
But as with all the most satisfying stories, mine had a happy ending and was accompanied by the best soundtrack ever – Debussy. Listening to his music, especially the ‘Faune’ piece, started me on the road to recovery and reminded me of all that was beautiful and wonderful in the world, and by doing so it also helped me to bond with my son. Something I’ll be forever grateful for.
Five years later, back in England, I was able to pay it forward by introducing the piece during some relaxation workshops I was holding at a local council estate as a way to reduce stress and anxiety. (I also cover the power of classical music here in Week 6 of the LightHearts UK free mental health course.) It’s one of the most uplifting and soothing pieces of music on the planet and it actually has the ability to change lives. Don’t just take my word for it, just listen to the broadcast and find out how it not only changed me, but affected a poet, a doctor, an artist and Debussy’s biographer.
And if you haven’t had the pleasure of listening to this extraordinary piece of music. Here’s a clip of it played by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and conducted by the great Leonard Bernstein. But be careful, it might just change your life…
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