A year of living classically… and a month that isn’t dry


WHAT’S with January and giving stuff up? It’s a dreary month at the best of times, without stopping drinking and pretending you are a vegan.

Dry January doesn’t appeal and neither does Veganuary – “Going Vegan is easy…”, according to the slogan. No, it isn’t because you can’t eat cheese or butter.

Anyway, I don’t wish to get in that scrap, or the abstemious tussle about relinquishing the one (sometimes shared) bottle of wine a week, the Friday night whisky or two pints or so of beer

Instead of dallying in denial, I have started something new for January: listening to a piece of classical music every day. This is thanks to a Christmas present.

On the day before this new habit began, we were walking with our muddy boots group. One friend is a professional classical musician and I told him Clemency Burton-Hill, above.

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “What’s she going on about now?”

Alan doesn’t need a book to guide him through a year of classical music, you see. And he seemed sceptical about the BBC Radio 3 presenter. I knew nothing much about her, aside from that impressively posh name, but her book Year of Wonder – Classical Music for Every Day is making January more tolerable.

Late last year, she was on the BBC Today programme to promote her book and played some choral music by Rachmaninov. The bass notes were so low they even silenced John Humphrys for a while.

My wife sings in a choir (and around the house, in every room), so I bought the CD. And in turn, she bought me the book for Christmas.

The first piece of music, for New Year’s Day, was the Sanctus from JS Bach’s Mass in B minor. We read the page of text then found the music on YouTube, and you couldn’t wish for a better beginning.

That has been the pattern all month now, with something new to listen to every day. My music tastes are more jumbled than a second-hand record shops, with rock, folk, jazz and world music filling the mental shelves. There has always been some classical music, thanks to my father, who plays the violin. As a student I listened to a curious mix of Elvis Costello, Ry Cooder, Joan Armatrading and Bach or Haydn.

The month so far has included Chopin, Hildergarde of Bingen, a Beethoven string quartet (fantastic – how did I reach such an age without hearing that?), alongside Bruch, Poulenc, Verdi, Puccini, Mendelssohn and Messiaen.

There has even been an electric guitar in there, courtesy of a composition by Steve Reich. And then there was that choral piece, the one my wife sings, Dirait-on by Morten Lauridsen. That is a lovely piece of music. If I could pass on one tip for a wet January morning, it is to Google that and have a listen.

It’s on my laptop now as I think of how to end today’s blog. Listening to a different piece of classical music every day is much more uplifting than keeping the cork in the bottle for a month or following a diet of leafy virtuosity.

Now at least I’m looking forward to the rest of the year: Thanks, Clemency.

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