Even reading the title ‘Peter and the Wolf’ triggered warm memories for me, memories of a school excursion, of going to the Melbourne Town Hall to listen to a concert to introduce school children to classical music. It’s rather blurry, but I suspect in was in 1960, I was in the first year of high school (not quite yet a teen), and is suspect that we had caught the train from Caulfield Station to Flinders Street Station, walking up Swanston Street to the stately Melbourne Town Hall.
I had never been to a classical music concert before. I’d developed a love of dancing to classical music at ballet classes, and my mother occasionally sat us down with her on the piano seat at my grandmother’s and played for Fur Elise for us when we were little. We also had fun as children selecting pianola rolls from the little rosewood cabinet at our grandparents’ house where we enthusiastically pumped the piano pedals, though the piano rolls were largely popular music of the 1930's. We had an old, hand wound gramophone at home, but I don’t remember classical records featuring, though some jazz records did. We didn’t listen to the classical radio music on the ABC – right at the end of the dial, I would shudder hearing operatic music on the staticky radios of the time. My parents could not afford music lessons for us, and at the time state schools didn’t have instrumental music classes. I grew up in the post war years, which were financially difficult years for many ex-service families such as ours.
I still remember the conductor introducing the characters, the bird represented by the flute, the the duck by the oboe, the cat by the clarinet, the grandfather by the bassoon, the wolf by three French horns, Peter by the strings of the orchestra, the rifle shots by the timpani and the big base drum. As the story developed, I began to be transported into another world. I'm still transported there when I listen to this recent recording found on YouTube..
Thank you, Prokofiev,for composing Peter and the Wolf. Thank you, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra for developing a program to introduce children in government high schools to classical music. Last but not least, thanks go to my dedicated music teacher at Malvern Girls High School for being inspired to arrange an excursion for my class to go the Melbourne Town Hall to experience our first concert! A memorable childhood experience which inspired, captured and built on my imagination and provided fertile ground for a later love of classical music.