My maternal grandfather’s first weeks in the Russian army, during the First World War, did not go well. One freezing cold night whilst he was on sentry duty; he fall asleep standing up, and when he awoke he realised his gun had been stolen. He had to search the whole army barracks before he reclaimed it. Not a good start.
Luckily he heard that good looking men with fair hair were being chosen to go into the music corps; the army band. Unfortunately only tall officers were required. He sneakily padded his shoes to add inches to his height, and the trick worked.
Life was much easier in the band. He travelled all round the country. He was taught to read and write music and play a Bariton.
This is how my mother described it:
“He played an unusual instrument; a bariton. He held it like a violin, the bottom of the instrument was like half a harp, with half-moon shaped strings; which he plucked and then on the top it was like an ordinary violin, played with a bow .
When he had to leave Poland (because he was Jewish) and came to England after the war; he had to teach himself how to play the violin. He had a large repertoire and taught all of us, six children, to sing in harmony.
He used to come home from his umbrella factory at the back of our house, and no matter how late it was, sometimes 12 o’clock at night, he would take off his overalls and sit down to play.
As we didn’t have a radio this was the only music I heard until I was fourteen. When I grew up I recognised music he used to play parts of major works and operas.”