The Germans have a word (once again!) that describes very fittingly the kind of tune that lodges in your brain, lingers there, and won’t go away, playing over and over as if some invisible repeat button had got stuck: Ohrwurm. The “ear worm” sits in your ear and occupies all the space, crawls around a bit, nibbles here and there a bit, but basically just doesn’t go away. And can drive you crazy.
All last week I had Sibelius’ Valse Triste dancing a ballet in my head. Just the first motif – and the frustrating part was that when I joined in and sang or hummed along with my little Worm I got stuck where the melody gets a bit complicated and couldn’t for the life of me remember how it went on. I also couldn’t recall the title or the composer, though the piece was so familiar and popular, and that just added to my annoyance. It was like a midge bite, that itches and itches until you scratch your skin raw. Luckily, my mother didn’t have her hearing aids in for much of the time so she was saved the irritation of my frustration.
Finally, the sadistic ear worm relented and reminded me of the title so I turned to YouTube. There it was, several versions by famous conductors, one with lovely photos of Finland, one with a portrait of Sibelius. But the one I liked best was this.
After I had listened to every version I could find on YouTube, and compared each one with this one yet again, my ear worm was exhausted and surrendered. I was free again!
And then I read the latest blog post of Raising 5 kids with disabilities, entitled “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother”. Strange, I thought, as she referred to the song being sung by Neil Diamond. I thought it was the Hollies (there I go again, giving my age away!) so back to YouTube I went: and yes, there was Neil Diamond in 1970, looking so heartbreakingly young and beautiful with his eyebrows, smooth skin, glossy thick hair and satin shirt. And how he sang that declaration of unconditional love in his deep brown velvet voice! (How did you guess I was in love with him back then?)
My mother was sitting next to me, wearing her hearing aids. “What’s that song?” she asked. “I haven’t heard that before.” Now considering that a charity version of it made no 1 in the British charts at Christmas, that surprised me. I would also have thought that over the past 42 years she might have heard it once or twice. But no, it was new to her. “That’s lovely, “ she said, “What a nice young man! Play it again.” So I did,
This morning I found myself singing it in the bathroom, and humming it as I was pouring out my coffee. And there’s that one little section where I’m not quite sure how it goes …