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Léon Goossens - a memory of my father
Léon Goossens had three daughters, Benedicta, Jennie and Corinne.
Here, the actress Jennie Goossens recalls some of her memories of him.
Jennie Goossens, photo by Geoff Shields

Léon was a wonderful father. He was away a lot when we were children - on tour abroad or playing to clubs in far-flung corners of the British Isles, but when he was at home he was great for doing all the childhood things that he had never had the chance to do himself. He had to wait until he joined the cavalry in the First World War to ride horses, but he gave them to us as children, and the model trains and later the farming were all extensions of his earlier yearnings. There was very little talk of music as such within the house, nor did we hear an enormous amount, which always amazes people. "It must have been awful trying to keep quiet while your father practised", other musicians' children would say to me, but I never knew what they meant - he never did practise, as far as we knew! We were taken to the occasional concert, and had to do embarrassing things like turning pages for accompanists and on one memorable day, holding Dame Myra Hess's hot-water bottle during a concert at the Dome in Brighton! Unfortunately people assumed that we were as musical as the rest of our famous family, and when asked our name we would brace ourselves for the inevitable "and what do you play?" as their eyes gleamed with eager anticipation.

I longed, as a child - and particularly as an awkward teenager - to be called Smith or Brown, to blend into a background of anonymity, safe from invasive questioning. Not to stand out or be different was my aim; so what did I opt for as my chosen career? Why, the stage, of course! I was firmly told by my music teacher that I lacked the voice for opera - my first choice, and one that you would have thought any imaginative person would have hurriedly encouraged, given my much-vaunted pedigree. So I therefore settled for acting, which my parents were pleased to encourage, and which I hope in later years gave them some moments of pleasure and pride.

The power that my father had to give pleasure was tremendous. The expression that came on people's faces when they met him - whether at tiny music clubs or at major concert halls - showed such warmth and true affection. I don't think he ever had to book a hotel when he was playing away from home. His address book listed A for Aberdeen to Z for Zambia; this then told him who he could stay with in whichever town or city he was currently visiting. He was a very great humourist, and his timing was matchless; many people would have been quite happy to come to his concerts just to hear him tell his stories. Léon with Jenny, aged 4

His own childhood and that of his brothers and sisters was a mixture of extremely hard work and the occasional lovingly-remembered holiday, and things were light-years away from the world that our children inhabit today. Then, he and his brothers and sisters were left in charge of their mother when Grandpa Goossens was away on tour with the Carl Rosa Opera Company, and the regime was extremely strict. The practising had to be done, and done thoroughly - sometimes until his lips bled - and if he stopped there would be a knock on the on the floor from the ceiling below; "Come on, come on." Those children didn't just naturally become musicians. There was an iron discipline behind every one of them. Not for them the distractions of today - television and pop stars. There was the cinema, but as my Aunt Marie once said to me "There was never any time to go to the pictures - we were too busy working".

Now, as a grandmother myself, I avidly search for signs of talent in the new generation, but their interests are different and I feel that The Goossens as a musical dynasty is at an end. My father's century went from the horse-drawn tram to the moon-landings, and he had a passionate interest in it all. He gave me more than I would ever have guessed possible in those early years, and the most precious gift of all - my love of music in all its glorious variety.

A longer version of this memoir can be heard in Jennie Goossens' illustrated talk 'A Voyage Round my Father'. She can be contacted at jenniegoossens@hotmail.com .

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