I told my daughter Abraxas that she had to be completely silent and that if she was bored or didn’t like the music for any reason she should simply point at the exit door and I would take her out. I didn’t want the experience to be a torture. Her three year old body became immediately tense when the two musicians walked onstage. Olga Leonard sat behind the piano and Tricia Theunissen clutched her violin. During the tuning she appeared to slip into another world. She was sitting on my lap but I could feel that she was somewhere else. The music started.
Three pieces for violin and piano op.9 by Graham Newcater, a long-forgotten South African composer rescued from total obscurity by Associate Professor Stephanus Muller. These short pieces were followed by Newcater’s Four idylls for string quartet. Abraxas was entranced. At one point she mimed the movements of violinist Tricia Theunissen as if she wanted to jump onstage and participate in the music.
I listened to what sounded like Webern after three shots of vodka and cream soda and suddenly felt sentimental. My daughter wasn’t carrying any intellectual baggage whatsoever. She wasn’t referring this experience to any so-called knowledge of music history or theory. She was experiencing sound in space and time. She was experiencing life itself in its purest form. At the end of it she looked sternly and not a little bit surprised at me and said. “I wasn’t bored at all. I liked the music. I want to see more concerts.”
Then the composer and another composer moved in front of the audience and began talking about music and Abraxas fell immediately into a deep sleep. Talking about music is not the same as music.
I’m glad that my daughter’s first music concert wasn’t by Mozart or Bach or Beethoven. I’m glad that her first experience of live music performance was by an absolutely forgotten South African composer whose work might never be performed again. It doesn’t matter if it never is. Newcater’s compositions have served the highest purpose there is – they have opened the ears of a 3 year old child. Sound has been transformed into music. The movement of an arm and a bow across a wooden instrument has created this magic as if for the first time. The world begins again. Art and life have merged magically and nothing will ever be the same again for her.