The endless sound of music

What is that ringing in your ears, running through your brain, while you are aloft on the heights?

Peter Warland

Just a few days ago I was walking up a mountain with a couple of similarly insane dear friends when I found that I had a song in my head; it would not go away; it was ‘There! I’ve said it again’ by Evans and Mann, and saying it over and over ad nauseam.

When in my youth I’d bury myself in books by famous mountaineers and explorers, deeds of daring and high adventure, the authors invariably wrote of plodding up steep slopes on foot or on skis with the sounds of Sibelius, Tchaikovsky or even Chopin in their heads. I recall even now that Scotsman who claimed that he had Rimsky Korsakov’s Scheherazade in his mind as he plodded up The Matterhorn — or was it Ben Nevis? I was quite jealous, I remember now.

However, when I struggled, head down, up some tedious slope, my accompaniment was (very old English folk will remember this) ‘Mares eat oats and does eat oats, and little lambs eat ivy. A kid’ll eat ivy too’ or something of that ilk. You can understand how my education must have been lacking.

I wasn’t brought up with ‘the classics’ ringing in my ears; Dad was into Fred Astaire and his dance music; I don’t know about Mother’s tastes.

Later on my more educated friends would talk about relishing Mozart or Beethoven or some other famous musician, but I think they were either boasting or kidding.

One good friend with Samaritan instincts felt that I was lacking in my musical education so he hauled me off to an opera. I wasn’t impressed; I am positive that not one of those pretentious arias ever rang in my ears as I plodded wearily uphill. No! It would be some Gershwin piece, and I’d remember the words too.

In my memoires — if I can remember any of them when it comes to writing — I’d like to write that Mount St. Helens erupted whilst I was on my way up Fisher Peak, and the music that was haunting me most of the way, especially up that awful talus slope, was Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld Overture, and that it must have been a sort of premonition. I, like most authors, would have been lying through my teeth. It was probably ‘I had the craziest dream, last night, yes I did’ written by Harry Warren back in 1942. Mind you, at the speed I was making up that slope, it was a playing as a dirge.

Having helped (read, got in the way) in the production of several high school musicals, such as Oklahoma, West Side Story and Hello, Dolly, I’ve had those Broadway melodies hammered into my head but I don’t believe they are the ones that haunt me still, when I venture into the mountains.

As in spring skiing. This activity involves a great deal of climbing up hard frozen snow, usually kicking steps in order to get up before the midday sun softens the surface. With one of us was in the lead, the rest of us would follow behind, wallowing in our own particular tunes and using the leader’s bucket-sized footholds, we’d suddenly be flummoxed because the leader had deliberately changed the pattern of his steps, moved to one side, danced a polka or something, and we, roused out of our respective reveries, would be thoroughly enraged. Some people have a strange sense of humour.

I’d never do a dastardly deed like that.

When I told my friend Paul about the tune that had been bothering me on the way up that peak the other day, he grinned at me and said, “Good job it wasn’t a waltz. That would’ve been something to see.”

Why is it that I never get an iota of sympathy?

What bothers me now is when I try to remember what tune it was that was jammed into my head the last time I climbed a mountain. Could it be the same one as before? I wonder. Is it the same melody week after week? Will I be paying royalties next?

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