Monogram JGF, a Christmas present for my son-in-law


JGF monogram (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

I have a wonderful son-in-law of a not very materialistic disposition. For Christmases and birthdays we often buy him books about cricket but he is all too often on the receiving end of things I’ve made, like hand hemmed handkerchiefs, monogrammed shoe bags  and even an embroidered hanging. But this Christmas I thought he actually might quite like an embroidered monogram.  I’d doodled around with his initials and settled for them in a triangular arrangement. I was inclining towards using just a single colour thread on black ground until my eye was caught by a little colourful beaded and painted brooch hanging by a mirror  near where I sit sewing. Made by Annie Sherburne in 1993 and bought from a stall she had in Covent Garden, I had originally given it to daughter No 1 for Christmas, but somehow it had migrated back to me. I don’t know that either of us have ever worn it but it’s a lovely thing to look at and turn over in your fingers, admiring the detail of the painted frame and the neat way the beading threads are attached to the frame through tiny holes. The colours were an inspiration for the monogram. In winter there’s something very satisfying about embroidering with sharp, bright colours, like acidic greens and yellows, electric blue-greens, fiery reds and gingers through to warm pinks and peaches – and so much easier on the eyes as even daylight at this time of year presents a challenge to the whitework I’ve done so much of recently.

Detail JGF monogram (hand embroidered by Mary Addison)

When I updated the operating system on my computer, I noticed the sound it makes when I open it up seems to have gone from major to minor key. At first I thought it was just a bit of a wobble and that it would correct itself, but no, it seems to be permanent. Now why would one opt for a minor key to start your day off when you could have major for uplift or optimism? The irritating thing is that I still expect the old chord and every time find myself slightly disappointed. Audial memories are very robust and resistant to change. I can’t be the only person of  a certain age to hear the opening music to University Challenge, expect the voiceover to continue “with Bamber Gascoigne” and feel slightly disappointed that instead we get “Jeremy Paxman”. Every time it jars! Incidentally and with apologies to American readers I did once meet Bamber Gascoigne in a maternity ward the day after my son was born as he was visiting the baby just born in the next bed to me – a situation not exactly conducive to introductions.

Annie Sherburne beaded and painted brooch, 1993

But to get back to musical intervals. I seem to lack the bit of brain set aside for sight reading music. At school I managed to get into both the choir and the madrigal choir but that was only because I sat next to my friend Sally who was brilliant at it and let me mouth singing while listening to her until I had the tune in my memory. (Our school was tiny, with under 200 pupils, yet Sally quite by chance some time ago read my blog  and got in touch, which was wonderful.) As an undergraduate I had numerous excruciating auditions for far too elevated choirs which I now curl up with embarrassment looking back at but I managed to satisfy a tiny part of my pleasure in singing by joining little ad hoc groups which came together under my late sadly missed friend Bruce. My first job after university was as personal assistant to Dr A.J. Croft who administered the Clarendon Laboratory and he, taking pity on me, regarded getting me into The Oxford Bach Choir as something of a challenge. (His wife Margaret was choir secretary at the time!)  Having gone blind on the pavilion steps of Lords Cricket Ground some years earlier, he was determined that I should be able to hear intervals even if I couldn’t at first read them off the printed page. To this end throughout the day he would pop up from time to time and sing intervals at me. ‘Raining’ was delivered as a minor third, while it’s corollary, ‘sunshine’ was a major third. ‘Amen’ was a fourth and a fifth was the opening two words of the hymn ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind’. This could be slightly difficult and even amusing as he would fling open the door between our rooms, full throat mid major or minor third, quite unaware that though quiet I  was on the phone taking notes from someone at the other end. The technique was, however, a revelation to me and though sight reading  never became instinctive (I think you have to start very early on in life) it was a real game changer.

Favourite Liberty prints

I did get into the Bach Choir, probably through the ministrations of Margaret. Never since have I been brave enough to audition for another choir. I do, however, take great pleasure and sing with great gusto at church services, weddings and funerals and cause much mirth and elbow jogging among my family when I do.

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  1. Posted January 31, 2021 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    I too have heard that sight reading is trainable, but not one of my teachers tried, so I always assumed it was just a gift I didn’t have. I enjoy singing, but only in unauditioned groups or congregations!

    • Mary Addison
      Posted January 31, 2021 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

      That sounds just like me. I think getting to grips with the building blocks of hearing musical intervals at an early age would have helped tremendously.

  2. Sally Coles
    Posted January 31, 2021 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    Very kind words there about my sight-reading ability, Mary, but I do believe it was a mutually beneficial arrangement, as my sight-reading was quite rudimentary until I joined the Leicester Philharmonic Choir many years later! This wretched Covid situation has deprived us of so much social, physical and mental exercise with the lack of choral singing, and singing alone on a Zoom rehearsal never quite hits the spot.

    I love the colours you chose for the monogram, and the brooch is just lovely too – both of them are definitely in a major key!

    • Mary Addison
      Posted February 1, 2021 at 10:24 am | Permalink

      No, Sally, you were definitely very good and I say this as only someone who hadn’t a clue would be able to.
      I often wonder what happened to Miss Sandy, an eccentric and quirkily inspirational character whose background I could never quite work out.
      The real wonder is that I never wondered more at the time, but there was little real engagement between us and most of those rather singular individuals who taught us at the time.The older I get, the stranger I realise most of them were!

  3. Sally Coles
    Posted February 1, 2021 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    So many memories evoked by those comments, Mary – goodness, I remeber auditioning for the choir and singing ‘Eternal Father, Strong to Save’ because it was good for a low alto voice!
    I read via the school Facebook page that Miss Grene (Latin) is still pretty fit and well in her nineties, although has limited mobility, which now makes me appreciate that she was much younger than I imagined when I was a pupil!!

    • Mary Addison
      Posted February 3, 2021 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

      Goodness, Sally, Miss Grene (and spelt thus?) was only in her forties – possibly early 40s – when she taught us!
      I shall have to email you separately with more reminiscences we can share. The older I get, the stranger our teachers seem.

  4. Amara Bray
    Posted February 7, 2021 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    It makes me happy to hear you take such pleasure from singing as I do too. I used to be in a number of choirs, and two communities I have lived in have done productions of Handel’s Messiah. That is some satisfying music to sing! At se point we will have to get back to normal again and when we do I will revel in the little non -audition church choir I was in before the pandemic. As another commenter said, those are some lovely major key colors you have chosen. I work in a Children’s museum now (limited visitors and masking keep us open) and the bright colors throughout keep me cheered up this dreariest of winters.

    • Mary Addison
      Posted February 7, 2021 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

      You’re right, Amara, bright colours are the major keys of vision and act on wellbeing in a similar way. And just as with music you also need the minor keys for the full range of expression, there are times when seemingly unexciting colours like slate grey and ecru complement shades bursting with exuberant colour and pull everything together to make a harmonious whole.
      I’m impressed your little museum is keeping open and how lovely to hear that colours of the exhibits around you have such a positive effect.

  5. Portia
    Posted February 10, 2021 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Umm it was actually Daughter No 2 that that broach belongs to not No 1!

    • Mary Addison
      Posted February 11, 2021 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

      I thoughtI’d given you a different one, a little square of fabric with embroidery, some in metal thread…

      • Portia
        Posted February 22, 2021 at 10:57 am | Permalink

        You gave me them both… brought from Frivoli I think. Daughter No 1 was not interested in such things at the time!

        • Mary Addison
          Posted February 22, 2021 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

          I can tell you think you’re sure about that … but I’m not …!!!

          • Portia
            Posted March 5, 2021 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

            That’s not right! Daughter No 1 will confirm. I even remember buying it!

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