My Grandad: Harry Shackleton 1920 – 2009
I have decided to start a blog mostly around music and music teaching. This week I have been teaching someone to play ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’ on piano and ukulele, arranging the Harry Potter theme tune for piano; chords in the left hand, for a precocious 6-year-old, arranging and rehearsing a two part version of the spiritual, ‘Down in the River to Pray’ for a talented brother and sister who are going to sing this unaccompanied at their grandma’s funeral. As I continue to amass teaching material tailored to each student I will make them available for download on this blog.
The lesson that has made me most itching to blog since I thought of doing this was on Monday. I have two pairs of siblings for whom I am not the only piano teacher. The other teacher takes them through grade exams and all the more formal aspects of learning, and I’m required to make sure music is still fun. Lucky me! We do lots of improvising and playing around with chords, learn music from films and computer games. The brother from the Monday house also has an accordion. It’s half the size of him and even heavier than mine and he has to play it sitting down, but he perseveres.
He was really excited to show me that he has started learning ‘The Entertainer’ on it. I like to give him chance to practice each hand separately so while he plays right hand I vamp the chords on the piano, and when he tackles the chord buttons I play the tune. It sounds great on accordion and jamming it with Paul took me right back to playing it with my grandfather when I was a kid. And then I was struck by the thought of the fantastic skills that my grandfather gave to me, teaching me tunes like The Entertainer by ear.
Grampy never learned to read music and just soaked up everything he heard like a sponge. From an early age he taught me tunes by rote, and then chords and how to apply them. It was so early on for me that I soaked it all up in turn from him and can’t really remember learning it in the first place; only I remember him explaining 7th chords to me, because instead of (for example) ‘G7’ he always said, ‘G to the 7th’, which made it seem very mysterious! When I play the things I learned from my Grandpa, it sounds so similar to my memories of his playing that it feels a little like I’m recalling him back to life.
One of my favourite tunes he taught me is ‘Ballet Egyptien’. He learned this the day that two pianists came to his school when he was a small boy. They made a lasting impression on him and he worked a version of his own out on the piano, and years and years later, passed it on to me.
Grampy was fond of all different styles of music and didn’t see any boundaries between them. He was just filled with a passion for music and the delight of trying to replicate the sounds that he heard. He would go from folk tunes to trad jazz to musicals to opera tunes to cockney knees up without batting an eyelid, but his favourite music of all was calypso and African music; the the chord progression he called ‘kwela’ which he loved playing in ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’.
However sponge like his ears were for melody and harmony, the same could not be said for lyrics, and as he strummed the guitar would always, whatever the song, sing the words ‘bim bam bo’ or similar. Another result of this soaking up of music but no words is that he had a huge catalogue of tunes in his head with no titles. (maybe catalogue is the wrong word for it). I have inherited these. I play tunes and haven’t the foggiest what they are. So I’m hope the cyber community will help me out and name that tune. It sounds like it’s quite a famous tune, so I think somebody will know. Here it is, videoed on my phone today, with the help of my kids.