Sounds From Home: Rachel Hopkin on Elgar and Homeland.

Joseph Mallord William Turner . Norham Castle, Sunrise.

Joseph Mallord William Turner . Norham Castle, Sunrise.

In the newest installment in our Monday Music series, Rachel Hopkin offers this beautiful exploration of the music of home. 

I think it’s something of a trope that people who choose to leave their native land and settle far away, only come to value the culture they grew up amidst after they’ve left it far behind.  It’s now eight years since I left England, where I’m from, and for the last three years I’ve been based in the U.S. which I love and where I plan to stay.  Even so there are, of course, things I miss about my homeland.  Some are obvious – such as family and friends and the British sense of humour.  I also miss the countryside along with its centuries-old, nationwide network of public footpaths that allow you to experience the best of it even when the land itself maybe privately owned.

And then there’s a kind of England I miss that is less tangible and extremely rosy-tinted: I miss being in a country which brought the National Health Service and the BBC into being – two institutions I admire to my core (even if both have recently been horribly afflicted by budget cuts), or the country that went to battle alone against Hitler in one of the few just wars that there have been (and I try not to think about its involvement in other conflicts motivated by less noble causes).

This blinkered, rhapsodic view of England is one that certain quintessential cultural beacons –  like Rupert Brooke’s poem The Old Vicarage, Grantchester, the paintings of J.M.W. Turner or the novels of Thomas Hardy – can briefly cause me to reflect on.  The emotive and evocative music of Edward Elgar also has this effect on me.

When I listen to Elgar’s music – which is rarely and usually only by chance – I often find myself moved to spontaneous tears and overwhelmed by peculiar homesickness provoked by this absurdly lop-sided view of my home country.  Elgar is also meaningful to me because he was my father’s favourite composer and I remember, as a child, being taken to visit his home in the lovely Malvern Hills.  (Coincidentally, I share Elgar’s birthday – 2nd June).

Dad died ten years ago this year, and this short piece, the Elegy for Strings Op. 58, was among the pieces of music played at his funeral.



Photo by Scott Goodin.

In addition to her folklore-related radio projects, her folklorist experience has included her work as an Oral Historian on the Elkmont Oral History Project for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, as a Team Leader on the Allen County Folklife and Oral History Project, and her documentation of a number of Nashville buildings that played a role of the rise of the music industry in that city for the Historic American Buildings Survey. 

She is currently living in Las Vegas where she is working on a new series of place-based audio pieces for Nevada Humanities and has also joined the board of the preservation organization, Preserve Nevada. Visit Rachel online here. 

Want to join us in this series and share your own story for Monday Music ? Click here to contact us. We’d love to hear from you.