This might be the most moving thing you’ll hear this side of In The Bleak Mid-Winter. It’s this week’s episode of one of the BBC’s best programmes, Soul Music.
Each episode discusses a particularly moving piece of music and attempts to explain what is special about it. The current episode is about Elgar’s Nimrod variation, and slap bang in the middle of it, talking about its emotional assocations, is Aldersbrook’s favourite peer Lord Adebowale.
You can listen to it here – Victor comes in at 09.48, but it’s worth listening from the beginning.
Lord Adebowale was one of the first People’s Peers and is now the chief executive of housing charity Turning Point. In the programme he talks about the effect the song had on his father. He describes his parents as a young couple coming to the UK in the 50s from Nigeria, because his father wanted to study to become a doctor.
“The reality was that they arrived in a country that was quite shocked to see them,” he says.
“Their experiences were not dissimilar to the experiences of other African migrants to this country which was, you know, basically casual racism. So my dad’s applications to medical schools were just rejected – and who’s to know if that was racism or not, but you’ve got to remember that in 1964 when black people got the vote in the United States, in this country it was considered OK not to give black men jobs on the buses. As someone who had certificates and was educated, and actually good-looking – he was a smart, good-looking man – not being able to get anywhere, not being able to get on deeply affected him and I think he turned in on himself. I think he became quite destructive, and depressed and difficult.”
He says the family would listen to records his father had bought, and for as long as he can remember, one of those was Elgar’s Nimrod.
“It is connected with my dad’s sophistication. You know, he wasn’t just another black guy on the streets trying to find his way. To me he was a highly intelligent, sophisticated, questioning man who, for all his faults, wanted to offer something to the world, and Nimrod speaks to me of that. And also it speaks to me of the mystery of not knowing someone… of not knowing my dad as well as I would have liked.
“There might be a contradiction in my dad being treated sometimes quite badly, and the association with a quintessentially English piece of music. To my mind there is no contradiction. My dad was English – he earned his right to be English, and to argue or feel that somehow because you experienced the racism of some individuals and some institutions, therefore there can be no beauty in the culture from which that racism occurs, seems to me to give racism the upper hand. The point of racism is to rise above it. In defeating it you pick the beauty of the cultures from which it might arise.
“It is a beautiful piece of music, it speaks to the soul. Those memories and emotions associated my dad come back every time I hear it, so that’s what it’s about.”
Soul Music is available to hear on the BBC website here and is also available as a podcast.