History Comes To Life When We Hear Their Stories
I was having coffee with some friends in a bar in Valencia, Spain, in 2018, when one of them introduced me to a lady who happened to walk in at that moment. I guess she was in her sixties. She told me her grandfather was a guitar enthusiast who had studied with Tarrega. Yes, that’s right, the very same Francisco Tarrega, he of Recuerdos de la Alhambra and the Nokia theme. He passed away in 1909.
Amd what did he say about studying with the great man, I asked. Her reply was priceless. She said that Tarrega would never let go of the guitar. He would open the front door and still be playing it while doing so. I must say this added a whole new perspective to those dry-as-dust formal photos. Here was a guitar icon made flesh and blood through a simple off-the-cuff anecdote.
Here’s another one. I was in Venezuela in 2004 where I met a distinguished lady in her 80s, ex-Director of the Barquisimeto Music Conservatoire. She told me she had heard Barrios play in person. What? I made a quick calculation – yes it was possible. She must have been born around 1920, Barrios died in 1944. What was it like, I asked. Her reply came in one word:
This was confirmation of what we can dimly make out in those crackly recordings.
Anecdotal history through the spoken word from people who were present, or at most one stage removed, is important. Black and white photos suddenly assume colour. Stiff portraits loosen up their subjects. To gather anecdotal history all we need do is ask questions and express interest. We could start with our grandparents and ask them what their grandparents were like, what they did, and who they knew.
My own great-grandfather was an international opera singer. He may have been friends with Verdi or the Spanish operetta composers. He could have met Tarrega, but alas I will never know.
Oh by the way if you were born in the 1980s your grandparents’ grandparents were born around 1840 and could have met Mertz and Regondi, and would have been older than Tarrega who wasn’t born till 1852. Back to the present: your own grandchildrens’ grandchildren could be asking questions about you – in 2120. What seems so ordinary and obvious to you will be fascinating to them. Of such stuff is history made!
Thank you for reading.