Inheritance Tracks - Suzie Harrison

  • Posted on: 20 August 2021
  • By: huw

Suzie Harrison, soprano part-rep, reflects....

My father loved classical music. During WWII, he was a medical student at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London, and so in a reserved occupation. When the bombings got bad, Bart’s was evacuated to Cambridge, and thus Bart’s at Queen’s was created. He would save all of his spare money to buy records to play on his wind-up-gramophone, cycling all over Cambridgeshire to locate Eroica or Cosi Fan Tutti. He would be the earnest young man sitting at the opera, with the score on his lap. I spent a lot of time looking at these scores - mainly for the beautiful lino-cut designed covers.

So, there should be no surprise that I grew up surrounded by music. We had our own recorder consort, and woodwind ensemble (flute, piccolo and oboe). As a child I went to all of the Ernest Reid Children’s Concerts at The Royal Festival Hall.

Of course, when I was little, I struggled to understand the story that music was telling, just enjoying a good tune, but my father was not one to pass up a teaching opportunity. He taught me to see the picture, in my mind’s eye, created by a piece of music. The story he told me, was of the little train on the pampas – again, and again, and again. So, I inherited from him Bachianas Brasileiras No. 2 , The Little Train of the Caipira by Heitor Villa-Lobos. Years later when I was working as an Oil Field Geologist in Bogota, Colombia, I found this piece came easily to mind. Villa-Lobos’s mixing of the popular music from the period 1930-1945 with Brazilian folk tradition on the one hand, and the style of Johann Sebastian Bach on the other, is wonderful. It fitted perfectly into the beautiful South American landscape where I was working.

It was quite hard to find something that I have passed on to my children, and I am afraid it is a rather prosaic choice! They do not like that ‘classical stuff’, even though they are all musical, have good voices and almost perfect pitch…unlike their mother!

After some thought I have come up with the first large work that I was taught, and which is always being sung in my house (along with ABBA). I learned it when I was part of the Junior Choir at Mill Hill Congregational Church. That was my church, because my father and a wonderful musician, Dr David Trevan, worked as colleagues at the Central Public Health Laboratory in Colindale. Dr Trevan was the choirmaster and soon realised that I liked to sing. He was quite a forward thinking and modern man, keen to embrace anything new. Which is why, aged around 14, I was singing Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’, well before it became a hit! We also put on the Jonah-man Jazz (Michael Hurd - 1966) … Daniel Jazz (Herbert Chappell – 1963) ……

There was always a cassette tape of ‘Joseph’ knocking about in the house somewhere, and later in the car to entertain four children on long journeys. My eldest daughter, who has special needs, loved it the most, and because of her condition plays it all the time (she has preservative behaviour). She, and we, are all word and note perfect – the dialogue and voices too. One of my sons commented, that it feels very quiet when she is not at home, as there is no ‘Joseph’ playing, with her belting it out at the top of her voice.

You may not be that keen on Joseph, and I hardly think that it needs a link, but please follow that for the Little Train. It is charming and evocative, and the cartoon very much of its era.