Daughter #1 is preparing for her grade 3 bassoon exam and an end-of-year concert. The bassoon is probably not an instrument that should take centre-stage: yet one of the concert pieces is a bassoon duet, a somewhat strange version of Delibes' 'Flower Duet' (from Lakme). On hearing her parp-parping upstairs I asked if she had heard the more conventional version, a duet for soprano & mezzo-soprano. As she hadn't, I sat her between our good speakers and put on the CD. By the end of the piece she had tears in her eyes (good girl: the only reasonable response), and I found myself envying her that 'first time' experience.
Do you remember your 'first time'? That moment when you heard a piece of music, looked upon a piece of art, understood an equation, were enthralled by a classic novel or felt as if you were known by a poet? I found myself remembering when I had heard the Flower Duet first - I'm not what anyone would call a classical music buff, so it was as part of a film score (if you are a classical ignoramus too you may know it from the British Airways ads of the late 1990's) and it was like a door had opened, as I had always sworn up till that moment that I hated opera and all its works. Even now it has the power to move me, although I have not the faintest idea what they're warbling about (and don't need to). I also remember reading 'Not Waving but Drowning' by Stevie Smith as a teenager and feeling that she 'got' me at that moment in a way that only Morrissey did otherwise; and a couple of years later, having the same experience with T S Eliot, and a sublime moment of wonder spent in the company of John Donne. I loved reading Jane Eyre without knowing who was in the attic. I had a similar sense of revelation the first time I understood - after two weeks of struggle - the biochemistry of photosynthesis, or less prosaically, how a leaf can turn sunlight into sugar (I'm afraid that knowledge is now lost in some dusty forgotten corner of my brain). And when I looked down a microscope and saw the chromosomes of a locust that I had killed (sorry), dissected (sorry) and generally squished physically and chemically until the code of its existence was laid out in front of my eyes.
The painting above is 'The Luncheon' by Monet. Now I just think of it as a pretty painting, quite nice but nothing I would connect with emotionally. The first time I saw a print of this was in a hospital corridor as a student nurse, waiting in X ray with a very sick patient. I had chance to look and look, like I never do now with art. I saw the dappled light on the child and the table, and the way the eye was drawn in to the sunlit path. I wanted to BE in that painting, like I never have with any other since.
I want more 'first times' like that.