According to Robert Walton
Goose bumps, goose flesh, goose pimples, chill bumps or the medical term cutis anserina, are the swelling on the skin at the base of body hairs which may occur when a person is cold, scared or in awe of something. Basically it’s a rush of adrenalin. To be stimulated or overwhelmed is a very individual thing, depending of course what turns you on. It might be a structure, a view, a painting, a book, a person, a voice, or in my case, music.
The first time I ever experienced a serious attack of goose “bumples”, was when I was laid up with a far worse problem, a digestive disorder sometimes called the dreaded lurgy. But I completely forgot the pain when from my bedside radio I happened to hear the signature tune of New Zealand’s version of the BBC’s “Down Your Way” called “South Pacific Flight”. It was Robert Farnon’s Canadian impression Gateway to the West, once described as the thinking man’s Tara’s Theme from “Gone With The Wind”. It’s difficult to explain why Gateway to the West had such an effect on me but I suspect somewhere in my being was a dormant chemical reaction waiting to happen. I became totally absorbed in the music. In this completely random event, I was instantly caught up in its spell, and as a tsunami of emotion swept over me, it changed my life forever. A profusion of pimples broke out accompanied by an uncontrollable stream of tears. Who knows what triggers such reactions? Maybe it’s in the genes. In the case of Gateway to the West, it was the entire package of melody, harmony and orchestration. I guess it simply struck a chord! Trouble was, it took ages before I discovered the title and name of its composer. Once known, it opened the floodgates to Farnon’s music from which I never quite recovered. Strangely enough I had unknowingly heard his Jumping Bean that at the time meant absolutely nothing.
Not long after that memorable moment, another unexpected incident presented itself. I was on my own at a cinema when a trailer for the 195O film “Teresa” came up showing Pier Angeli in a corn field. Just the sight of her was enough to produce a similar reaction to Gateway to the West. It was her stunning natural beauty that caught my eye and left a permanent black and white imprint on my psyche.
It was in another movie “An American in Paris”, that I first heard the Gershwin composition that inspired the title. Just the opening, a revelation, was enough to send me into paroxysms of delight as the tune clashed with the bass line in a way that went right through me like an electric shock. It was a kind of pain caused by the dissonance.
Most sensible singers make it a practice to do a thorough sound and familiarization check before performing on stage, especially one that’s new to them. Vera Lynn was no exception and lucky enough to have the expertise of her fastidious husband Harry Lewis who always made sure that everything was just perfect. I was her pianist on a tour in the mid-1960s when the three of us entered the Stoke-on-Trent venue to give it the once over. As we walked in, the public address system was playing what I can only describe as “music from heaven”. I immediately went into a kind of trance. Vera and Harry couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about, but I was in another world transfixed to the spot. After making inquiries, the engineer in the control room informed me it was the title track of George Shearing’s album “Touch me Softly” - a Shearing arrangement. Near the end of the piece, the ravishing strings go into overdrive in what I call “tone apart” harmony. Let me explain. On the piano, the right hand plays the chord of say G, while an octave below, the left hand plays the chord of F. Play them together and the dissonance it creates is absolutely sublime, especially if you move them up and down in tones.
By then I thought I’d heard it all, but I had to wait another thirty years before the next big musical discovery. It was as a member of the City of Bath Bach Choir I discovered Mahler. Not just any old Mahler mind you, but his 2nd Symphony (“The Resurrection”). Back in the 1950s Mahler’s music was almost unheard of, but a jazz pianist friend of mine, Crombie Murdoch, was even then extolling the virtues of it. At the first rehearsal I sensed this was going to be one of the biggest weepies of my life. That was entirely confirmed when we performed the work with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra at Portsmouth, Bournemouth and the Royal Albert Hall. It might have been only the last ten minutes of the symphony but what an unforgettable ten minutes! These were some of music’s most moving moments with shades of Malotte’s Lord’s Prayer, itself probably inspired by Mahler. As it gradually builds, I became so overwhelmed with emotion I found it impossible to sing. The only way to participate was to become totally detached. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do!
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