I hold the pot in my hands. It is my first gardening experience, and an emergency. These bear’s breeches we have rescued from the garden centre are pot-bound. I turn the plant over. Its roots are meshed together like a plate of pasty bucatini. On carefully cutting the plastic away I see that they have turned back upwards, spiralling round the earth in a crazed attempt to find nourishment.
This image stays with me for days, and I don’t quite know why.
I have a new student. She plays the Prelude to Bach’s Fourth Suite, very well, but I cannot hear her inner drummer. Neither, I suspect, can she. There is, though she plays in tune, simply no resonance in the big fat E flat major chords and, though she plays in time, no pulse. I get out my djembé, asking her to drum on the main beats as I play the notes. I see that her wrist does not spring back in release from the impulse; that there is no follow-through and that her arm stays rigid in mid air till it is time to hit again. I try to get her to create a first impulse that gives birth organically to the next seven within the phrase. I talk about - and demonstrate as best I can - skimming stones, preparation and follow-through in a tennis stroke, the release in our step and the bouncing of a ball. I push her around quite a lot. We swap roles. Slowly her wrist becomes responsive to the wood of her bow. She starts to follow the natural logic of her body rather than the chaotic judgement of her mind and, on the dominant chord, I finally get the goose-bumps Bach deserves. As I drum, letting my fleshy palm sink deep in to the animal skin and feeling the lightness of the release back out of it, I understand something about my roots.
My roots, though I was born there as were both my parents, do not feel ‘English’. They are not about bluebell woods and toad in the hole (though I love both things), nor are they the Goons or lawns or dandelion soup. They are somewhere between Hungary (Sandor Vègh), Peckham (where I danced - and kissed - for the first time) Catalonia (Pablo Casals) and Mali (the Dogon art with which I was surrounded as a child.). These are the elements that have taken root in me, and I realise that what I am profoundly homesick for is this soil.
If we have a family will my roots reach back in to that soil as new shoots reach for the sunlight, I wonder. I do not know the answer.
Meanwhile, if I can only find my musical family, the quartet repertoire is waiting. How I ache for it.