Rachel Hopkin

Folklorist and Radio Producer

Sounds from Home

24 December, 2013

Here’s a copy of a blog that I wrote for Meredith Martin-Moats’ great site, The Boiled Down Juice.


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.