Picking up wehere I left off in my previous post . . . my own writing mentor, Briony Goffin, and I have often discussed the importance of finding ways of keeping one's creativity stimulated, to keep the ideas - and, in our case, the words - flowing. I live a long way from the cultural delights and opportunities offered by a city - art galleries, theatres, museums, exhibitions and that vibrant buzz generated by a city's diverse communities - so have learned to tap into what I do have.
Music is the most easily accessible pathway to creativity for me: singing with a choir and pushing my own boundaries, in terms of what I listen to. Which means that I now spend as much time tuned in to BBC Radio 3 as I do to Radio 4. R3's Late Junction, for example, described on the BBC website as 'a laid-back, eclectic mix of world music, ranging from the ancient to the contemporary', has long been the starting point for musical journeys of discovery and wonder. These days, I am never awake at the time it is broadcast, so have to rely on iPlayer to catch up, but no matter.
I usually listen to R3, driving to our choir sessions on Tuesday evenings, when the repeat of that morning's Composer of the Week programme is broadcast. Last week was devoted to the music of American composer, Philip Glass, whose work I find both compelling and mesmerising. I think it all started for me back in the 1980s, when I saw the film, Koyaanisqatsi, for which he composed the score, and then a televised production of his opera, Akenhaten; I had never heard anything quite like it before . . .
Glass describes himself as a 'a Jewish-Taoist-Hindu-Toltec-Buddhist', so therein lies some spiritual and personal resonance. Added to which he has worked extensively with so many writers, poets, singers, musicians, performers, film makers and artists whom I admire, including Leonard Cohen, Doris Lessing, Twyla Tharp, Martin Scorsese and Ravi Shankar; if they love his work, it follows that I might too. And I do.
So there I was on Tuesday evening, in the car park, all set to spend a couple of hours making music myself, when the programme presenter, Donald MacLeod, introduced this, Einstein on the Beach, Knee 1. It is an extraordinary piece, from an even more extraordinary, five-hour opera based on Einstein's life and theories, which therefore has a certain circularity about it . . .
I knew nothing of the relationship between mathematics and music until I was 30-something and studying the Open University foundation course, An Introdution to the Humanities. Oh, I thought, if only I'd learned about this at school, I might have paid more attention during our dreary Maths O-level classes. Ditto physics, where I got no further than a very basic introduction; in terms of the school's O-level timetable, opting for history, which I did (how could I not?), meant dropping physics. Only later, much later, did I realise what I had missed. The Tao of Physics, which I am convinced would have made a huge difference to my appreciation and understanding of the subject, was not published until 1975, more than 10 years too late for my schoolgirl self.
If only we'd had a better teacher for maths; someone who could have fired our teenage imaginations, as did our arts and humanities teachers, instead of spending her time dreaming up endless new stratagems to keep us away from the temptation of boys, back-combed hair, make-up, fashion, rock and roll, and just about the entire 1960s. If only . . . but we were left to get by as best we could and there was certainly no help available for anyone who was floundering. (Rather too many of us. Where were the school inspectors?) What a wasted and lost opportunity, not just for me but for the hundreds of young girls who struggled (or slept/gazed out of the window/read furtively under their desks) in her classes throughout the decades she spent at our convent school. Years later, my work enabled me to meet some truly inspirational and gifted teachers of maths and physics and I would listen to them in awe, wondering if their students knew how lucky they were. (It should not, of course, be a matter of luck. Young minds deserve the very best teachers.)
But back to Philip Glass and Einstein on the Beach. You can read more about the entire work here, which is probably more reliable than any attempt on my part to explain it. Meanwhile, I invite you to listen to Knee 1, as music, as meditation, as . . . what you will. For me, it is like listening to the heartbeat of the universe.