woman asleep on train‘Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head’. Neither, from time to time, do musicians. During the Proms for example, morning rehearsals are held in the Albert Hall and the players are then released to roam the streets until the evening concert. If you visit Tate Modern, one of the cinemas in Leicester Square or a West End department store at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, as like as not you will be rubbing shoulders with an oboist or a tuba player. Some take the opportunity to fit in a few hours teaching – and there is always The Pub. Why not go home for an hour or two? It is a common misapprehension that London musicians live in London. Either through choice or necessity, many live beyond the M25, and orchestral schedules frequently result in this temporary vagrancy.

On the last day of the OAE’s tour with Simon Rattle a 6am start (the third in as many days) brought the orchestra back to Heathrow at 10 am for a rehearsal in the Festival Hall at 5 pm followed by a concert and live broadcast. Of course a 6am start is the norm for many workers, but consider that musicians are expected to perform at the height of their powers between 7 and 10 pm, more than 12 hours after the alarm has interrupted their innocent dreams. It is not surprising that the search for an afternoon nap often features prominently in a musician’s day. Indeed, if some enterprising person were to invent a violin case that could convert into a comfortable inflatable mattress, they would be sure of a market, and one OAE double bass player has admitted to curling up inside his womb-like, padded case. On the morning in question a member of the Back Row hit upon an ingenious solution. Having gone to Liverpool St station to buy an advance ticket for her homeward journey after the concert, she noticed that the Norwich train was due to leave in ten minutes. Purchasing a day return to Colchester, she boarded the train, and was soon sleeping soundly. At Colchester she caught the next train back to London and was able to sleep for another hour. On reflection it is quite likely that she is not the only musician to have used the railways in this way. Next time you see someone asleep on a train in the middle of the afternoon, tap them on the shoulder and ask what instrument they play. You may be surprised at the answer.

Back Row Blogger