Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

Music in my Life

Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra (photo: Yigal Shefer)

I have often written here and elsewhere about music, musical events and my relationship with music. A recent trip to Italy, where I was unable to listen to music throughout the day as is my wont when I’m in Israel, brought home to me just how much significance music has for me in my daily life.

I am lucky enough to have had parents who saw to my musical education from an early age, introducing me to the music of Mozart (Eine Kleine Nachtmusik) and Mahler (symphony no.1) as well as a variety of other music via gramophone records. I was given piano lessons, at which I did not excel. I was taken to concerts (Handel’s ‘Messiah’) and even the occasional outing to Lyons’ Corner House, where the resident ensemble would play ‘Teddy Bears’ Picnic’ at my request (I was about five years old at the time).

Both my parents received a musical education and were taught to play the piano, as was customary in middle-class homes in pre-war Germany. I know that my father’s family were especially musical, and that my grandfather (whom I never knew) played the piano sufficiently well to organize chamber-music evenings in their home. The family attended concerts regularly and was one of the first to own a gramophone.

When I was growing up in England the large radio set dominated a shelf in our kitchen-living-room, and the programmes broadcast throughout the day by the BBC were a constant accompaniment to my life. The daily ‘Children’s Hour’ programme served to provide information and entertainment considered suitable for young people, and I still recall being moved to tears as a child when a programme about George Frederick Handel described the process by which he composed his oratorio, ‘Messiah.’ In my teenage years I remained an adherent of classical music, but was also happy to hear music by the Beatles and other pop groups (though not all of them).

Today in Israel we have a plethora of radio programmes broadcasting every kind of music throughout the day and night, though when I first moved to the country, some sixty years ago, broadcasting hours were limited. Popular Israeli songs that were heard over the radio also served as a uniting element for the disparate population in times of peace and war, and especially the latter.

My love of music even brought me the love of my life. After first meeting at a student party we quickly found out that we both loved classical music, especially chamber music, and our first ‘dates’ consisted of listening to one another’s records of our favourite compositions.

Back then the time devoted each day to broadcasting classical music was limited, whereas now it continues throughout the day and night, though some of the categories defined as ‘music’ often leave me confused (or even annoyed). I know that the intentions are good, and that the people who arrange such matters are capable and knowledgeable, regarding it as their mission to ‘educate’ listeners like me and broaden our musical horizons. And of course there are media other than the radio where my ‘fix’ of constant classical music can be obtained, but that requires slightly more effort than simply turning a knob, and it seems I’m even lazier in my old age than I was earlier on in life.

And so, while on holiday in Italy, I was hardly ever able to find classical music on a radio, not even in our rented car, though that was probably because of our ignorance of the system and the fact that we were not always within range of the broadcasting station. Almost by chance we managed to attend an opera in Parma, which was a real treat. When one of my grandchildren asked me, on our return, what I had missed most while away my spontaneous (and tactless) reply was ‘the music programme.’ At that moment I realized that a large part of my life consists of being able to hear music at all times – whether sitting at my computer, cooking or doing household chores, or just reading the paper or a book.

I wonder what my grandparents would have thought about my need to hear music at all times.


About the Author
I was born and brought up in England. I am a graduate of the LSE and the Hebrew University. I have lived in Israel since 1964. I am an experienced translator, editor and writer.