Skip to content



Vanessa Horn, 13 Sep '12

The blues is an expression of anger against shame and humiliation" (B.B. King).
Rhapsody in Blue
When she came home I just knew she had it – knew it was in that hessian bag that dangled invitingly in her hands. She tantalised me at first, teased me: “No, they didn’t have it; they said it was out of stock” but I just tutted, took the bag from her and peered in, my heart pounding like the swell of a tide – rising and falling, rising and falling.

It was there! I held my breath and carefully removed the thick manuscript, admiring the ornate italic wording on the front: ‘Rhapsody in Blue’. I’d been waiting for this moment for so long but now, with the music in my hands I started to doubt myself. Would I be able to play it? Was I fooling myself by ever thinking that I could?

“Well, go on then,” she said, nodding at the piano impatiently. “Have a go!”

I shook my head no until she left the room, exaggerating her pretended irritation by thrusting her nose in the air, and only then did I position the music in its rightful place on the piano. Flexing my fingers I tentatively began to play...

...and, as the first demanding, dominant notes of the clarinet resound across the concert hall, I breathe deeply and begin to lose myself to the rhythm. The mocking tones of muted brass open up to the melody and, in the initially low and slightly hesitant tones, I start to communicate my story...

It was a tune from a TV programme, I think – can’t remember which one – some children’s programme I suppose. Sitting down at what was then an unfamiliar instrument, I picked out the notes carefully, beginning to smile when a melody came to life under my fingers, proud that I alone was making this sound. I can remember spending hours and hours at this instrument that had appeared in my living room, unaware then that my life had something missing, but knowing definitely that I was now more fulfilled than I’d ever been before; if I had been ‘blue’ before then I was certainly a lighter shade after my discovery. I practised and practised with none of the reluctance you would normally associate with a child and when I played I forgot all but the music – forgot all of the criticism of my ‘introverted’ personality, forgot all the lack of understanding – all gone. And so I used the music, used it as a shield against the world; I wasn’t whole without it.

As I grew older, it became – if possible – even more important to me; as a teenager my peers were experimenting, their emotions enhanced by hormones, but me? Well, I was playing the piano – all the emotion I would ever need was contained in my polished Pandora’s Box. Of course, it wasn’t thought of as being ‘normal’; a normal teenager would have been shouting and crying, slamming doors and arguing – you’d have thought my passion would have been appreciated, - it was certainly more pleasant to listen to - but no, it wasn’t ‘normal’!
It’s just as well I didn’t take any notice of them but then it would have been easier to climb a mountain than to try to explain how I felt about my playing, my piano, my music. And anyway, when I turned eighteen I was able to move to London to study piano fulltime; my ‘obsession’ had suddenly become acceptable, enviable even. There was a possibility that eventually, it might even bring in a decent wage! Strange how it goes... not that I gave it a lot of thought; after all, it didn’t change the way I felt, the way I was. But I suppose at least, at that stage, I was afforded a little respect.

Maybe I actually became slightly arrogant at that stage; certainly I felt unstoppable in my unremitting desire to perform and communicate my music to others (though perhaps I didn’t care that much whether they enjoyed it or not!) It was very satisfying to be making a living doing something that I loved so much and the years went by quickly; I was lost in the world of music: unreachable and unstoppable, that was me! Anyway, that was the mindset of where I was at when the unthinkable happened – the accident. Such a stupid thing to do, slipping down a few steps, but such consequences to break your wrist when you rely on your hands so much! It wasn’t so much not being able to play when the cast was on – though that was frustrating enough – no, it was being told that it would take months of physiotherapy to be able to even start practising again. And then, well, who knows how long to get back to my previous standard, if that was ever possible.

And it was hard – god, was it hard! Sitting there, back to playing basic exercises, scales, arpeggios – like starting again but worse; the frustration was volcanic in its build up, and the – inevitable - eruption was volcanic. I’m not afraid to admit I shouted. I cried. I raged. What was I if not a pianist? So I had to keep trying, I had to persevere; had to believe that I could get it all back again. There was nothing else to do but believe it could be done. Physiotherapy also seemed to help – as reluctant as I was to commit myself to a regular appointment, I could see that it was necessary.

Acquiescent; that’s not a word I would ever have associated with - why would I? Call me arrogant if you like but I couldn’t and wouldn’t do as everyone expected me to: a job, a wife, a family – no, not for me! I needed my music and only my music. So I pushed the boundaries, I pushed you all aside in my quest to play. And yet... in opening up to receiving help in my physiotherapy sessions, I also opened myself up to human contact, clichéd though it might sound. I could communicate with her with words like I could with others in music. She listened, she seem to understand; she wasn’t unlike me in also having obsessions, hers being a need for cleanliness and control in her life. Eventually, after many stuttered months, we realised that we could be together, could even live together, accept our ‘eccentricities’ and, actually, be better for them.

...and so, as I play, I smile as I recognise that the mammoth struggle of the past year has been worth it – I am back where I should be. And I have even more now; I catch her eye as she sits, nervously but proudly, in the very front row and we exchange a brief moment of empathy. Finally, I triumphantly play the last few syncopated chords, the orchestra stridently swells, and the conductor’s baton falls. The applause electrifies me and I stand and bow with a fullness in my heart.

Comments · 2

Page 1 of 1

  • Anthony Blackshaw said...

    Hi Vanessa, welcome to Burrst.

    I really enjoyed your burst (and I've added it to the untold tales entries). The only thing I would recommend is that you either use a tab or a blank line to indicate a new paragraph, it would make it a little easier on the eye when reading :)

    • Posted 7 years ago
  • Vanessa Horn said...

    Thanks for your comment - on re-reading this I see what you mean and have now left a blank line between each paragraph

    • Posted 7 years ago