It is the tradition in Wales, as I am sure in many other places, to welcome in the New Year with a concert or other musical event. So I found myself last night in the village hall listening to two local bands playing. Now I do not have a musical bone in my body, I can play no musical instruments and totally lack any sense of rhythm. But I still enjoy music and have fairly catholic tastes, I can usually find something in all forms of music that appeals to me. When I was young I used to be adamant that I didn’t like Opera but that was before I took my daughter to Die Valkyrie and I discovered I was a Wagner fan. Similarly my disdain for Country music evaporated when I worked for a period in Columbia S.C. and subsequently discovered Hootie and the Blowfish. I am pretty confident that there will be something in all types of music that I will be able to find enjoyable.
I presume this is because music is such a basic form of communication between us. We may not share the same language as someone else and we may not be able to exchange many facts with them. But through music we are able to convey feelings and emotions with others though we do not share any tongue in common. It is very likely that in our species the development of language and that of music are closely intertwined. It is hard to think of a human celebration that doesn’t use music – not only the pleasures of the Wedding March” or the songs of praise at worship, but also the sad or fearful times of our lives with the funeral marches, The Last Post or even the skirl of the pipes as armies are lead into battle. Even those of us, like myself, who can play no instruments nor compose any songs still have music in our lives. As Neitzsche that ardent atheist and nihilist said “Without music, life would be a mistake”. This may have revealed the chink in his theories; as when we sing to ourselves, through happiness, fear or sadness, we are showing that there are always two of us present. The singer, that associated with our bodies and the present, and the listener, that spark inside, which is our permanent core.
It is that ability to communicate that makes music enjoyable to me and is why I always prefer real, live, human music to reproduced music no matter how good it is. I enjoyed my evening listening to two local bands (who were, incidentally, excellent) in the company of my friends and neighbours. Hearing music made ‘up close and personal’, with all the content (the coughs, the mistakes, the breathing, the fluffed notes) carries much more emotion than simply the song or tune itself. You understand the emotion or concentration far better when you can see the facial expressions or sweat of the performers. No matter how good the recording on my CD may be, the effect of being so close to he performers and the audience makes live music superior every time.
I have been to live music events in arenas and stadia. But I much prefer small scale, local musical events – music on a human scale. When I attend other concerts I was part of a much greater crowd, for example when hearing “Yes” or “Andre Rieu” but this was not as part of a real community. In these events we were all either old or young, classical or jazz lovers, fans of a band or genre. We were a tribe. We were not a living breathing community with the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the academic and the farmer, all coming together to share enjoyment and welcome the start of another year. In these large events you can loose your indivduality to become part of the mass and you make no links to others in that mob. In small events you keep your individuality and start to recognise other individuals and create links with them. Not only sharing the music but communicating about it as well. Last night created the links that are the glue that will hold our community together over the coming year.
When I think back to my own childhood and recall Hogmanay’s of years ago. While I can remember the drinking and the carousing, the strongest memories I have are of the singing. I remember us, as children, singing to the adults. I remember my Mum and Dad singing to the gathered people and I remember my parents singing with their neighbours. I remember when older, and a student in the city, walking the streets on Hogmany looking for parties and knowing where to go by hearing the signing from the windows. If there was no singing there was no point in knocking on the door! Despite the pleasure that can be had from mass produced commercial music it would be a great shame is we lost the home grown, local, small scale musical events. We should be careful that we don’t allow increased personal access to music to reduce our shared communal appreciation of music as the latter is by far the more important.
Blwyddyn Newydd Dda / Happy New year