Listen with Father: How I Learned to Love Classical Music

By Caroline Sanderson

A resonant memoir of a beloved father, evoked through the classical music he cherished.

Monday, 16 January 2023

Alive & Listening

It’s been too long since my last “Listen With Father” update. My excuses: last autumn was a time of intense reading after I was appointed chair of judges for the 2022 Baillie Gifford Prize, UK’s most prestigious non-fiction book award. I programmed and ran two book festivals in September & November. And latterly I’ve been caring for my 88-year-old Mum who had a horrible fall in early November, breaking her wrist and foot, and bashing in both her face and confidence. Her recuperation has been slow, and for me, a sobering window onto the daily trials of old age. Her accident has also made me realise a very simple thing. The living need us in a way that the dead do not.

And yet our need for those we have lost endures. Despite being preoccupied with the welfare of my mother, I felt this acutely around the ninth anniversary of my Dad’s death which fell in the long dark days just before Christmas. I visited his grave, swept it clean and placed a cheerful planter of winter flowers and greenery there. And on top of his headstone, I laid a small pebble as I do each time I go to see him, and my brother who was buried there more than 20 years before him.

Stone-laying is a tradition I’ve loved ever since I first came across it on a visit to the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague in the 1990s. Looking up the origins of this Jewish ritual, I read that the Hebrew word for pebble also means ‘bond’ and that a line from a Jewish memorial prayer asks that the deceased be ‘bound up in the bond of life’. By placing a stone on a grave, we show that we have been there, and that the individual’s memory continues to live on, in and through us. In this sense, the dead reside with the living.

My book “Listen With Father” came about in part because I can’t often visit my Dad’s grave to lay a stone – he is buried 130 miles away from where I live. So I have found another path to remembrance which works powerfully well for me. When you listen intently to any piece of music, you feel intensely alive. And when I listen to pieces of music that I know my Dad loved, I feel him wholly bound up in, and bonded to the life I live now.

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Tony Whelpton
 Tony Whelpton says:

You don’t need to apologise for any delay, because everybody who knows you will understand! I had known nothing about your mother’s horrific accident. My mother too had an awful accident, back in 1950, when I was only 17. When I think about her accident I get more upset the older I get! And your father would understand the delay too, and readily forgive you!
As my 90th birthday approaches (it coincides with Mozart’s birthday, January 27th) I appreciate more and more what my parents did for me.

posted 16th January 2023

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