Chapter 30: Adonis with Acne

Mrs Mona Walls was my piano teacher. Before exams she'd put in hours. Often I'd go to the Walls' home for extra lessons and for the exam itself. I had to sit Grade VIII twice because I missed it the first time.

Me on piano
Me on piano

Going to the Walls' place was a sort of haven, a bit of normal family life. They were always hospitable and interested. Apart from Mr and Mrs Walls, there was Michael, Peter and Christopher. The boys were all pretty good musicians. When violinist Peter auditioned for the Lindsay Orchestra, I was asked to accompany him but couldn't learn the music in time. That's as near as I ever got to fame. If I don't go on about the piano, it doesn't mean to say I wasn't practising.

Father Mills was in charge of music and a sort of literary buff as well. Father Delaney was also a musician, but was only there for a while. Father Mills put on a musical every year.

The first musical I went to was in the fourth form. I went with my friend, Harvey O'Sullivan, and his mother. It was Salad Days. I thought it was magical. Everyone talked about how great this and that was about it. But the thing I liked best was the lighting. It started in a green light and instantly I was swallowed up into another world.

Salad Days
Salad Days

It's fantastical to see once-were-humans moving in coloured lights and singing

We said we wouldn't look back.

In my early years, it never occurred to me to audition for a part. I suppose the ones without acne did. In my last year I did audition, and got a part. I had to say "Look what the cat brought in". Then I had to sing in the chorus.

Every morning, every evening,
Ain't we got fun.
So much money, O but Honey,
Ain't we got fun.

The show was called As the Tree Falls. For two of the three performances I was so busy playing cards out the back that I missed the call. No one seemed to notice.

Then I wrote a play called Muff Muff and Zap Zap. It was performed at a Rector's Concert, which was a sort of soiree with eight students playing Oranges and Lemons on the piano one after another, and another six playing Hiawatha's Dance. One student played something on the violin, and when he'd finished everyone thought he was still warming up and getting in tune. Once they realized though, the audience gave him a good clap, so I presume he would've felt pretty good about it. I don't remember anything about this Muff Muff play, except for the line "Muff Muff! I love you!" Kevin Gain and I performed Campton's Out of the Flying Pan. We put it on ourselves.

Two famous people came to speak. The first was playwright, Bruce Mason. Mason performed a one-man play for us. He said, "I'm going to perform this play in French because I need to brush up on it". Then he started, and it was clear that he'd brushed up on it pretty well before he got there. I watched slightly turned off, because it looked like he was showing off how good he was at languages. He did do one good thing though, which was to say, "I haven't got any stage furniture, so I want you to imagine a bookcase here". And he gestured to the side of the stage. I thought he created the bookcase fairly well. Other than that, he got no marks.

The other famous visitor was James K. Baxter, when he was a postie in Wellington. He said, "If you want to write a poem, spend twenty-five years practising poetic forms. Then write your poem".

I wrote poems. Most people did, I suspect. I quote one in English, rather than in French.

When sun bursts, semi-bold,
Upon the pantsless night,
Who knows what inconsequential conversations
We could hold sipping Bacardi and
Waiting for winter.

I might read my diary for Boredom's sake,
Or mope my secrets out from Auden's Abject Willow.
But, lonely in a heap of introspection,
I, tongue-tied in the sun,
Let quietness pass for character till
Darkness comes.

I showed it to Father John Weir, who was himself a poet, when he visited. He said it was very nice.

We had public speaking classes on Sunday mornings. I was always terrified about having to speak because I thought my voice sounded like a bout of the flu. Once, however, I entered a speech competition in the fourth form. I went so fast that I hid in the piano rooms afterwards. For about three years.

Then there were dancing lessons with Miss Kathleen O'Connor in the Hall. Nearly everyone took dancing. We danced in our socks.

"Shh! Shh! Boys! Boys! Shh! Shh!" she'd say. Boys had to practise - dancing - with boys, and when I got a certificate for the Latin American, I never once had ever done the man's part.

That covers most things arty. I still sang in the college choir, because some of my friends did. But nothing had changed. I opened and closed my mouth and raised my eyebrows. I couldn't even hear a part that wasn't the tune at the top. We gave a concert and sang Bach's Peasant Cantata with the Lindsay Strings; with Ruth Pearl playing the violin and Dobbs Franks conducting. It was good. They played Douglas Lilburn's Diversions afterwards.

In my fourth form, I went to Wellington to hear Artur Rubinstein play the piano at a concert. As an encore, he played de Falla's Ritual Fire Dance. It looked like he had his hands in the air above his head most of the time. Afterwards, I rushed out the back of the Town Hall and shook his hand. He said, "How do you do?" It blew me away. Of all the people in the world, I was the one that Artur Rubinstein said "How do you do?" to.

Artur Rubinstein

After that I practised the piano frantically. I would become as good as Rubinstein.

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