The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.
Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made
is star-stuff too?
– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –
dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.
Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.
Thursday, 9 January 2014
music as presence
Music has always had a crucial role in my life. Both my parents were amateur musicians: my mum a classical pianist, my dad a folk-rock-blues-jazzman. In fact almost all of my family, including my ex-husband and daughter, are consummate musicians, some of them (my dad, one sister, my daughter, my nephew) being multi-instrumentalists – the kind of people who can pick up just about any instrument and play it immediately.
One of my earliest memories is asking my mum for 'the ice-cream record': a recording of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos (the cover of which showed a great studded door with shadows making cones beneath the studs, looking for all the world like ice creams). The Brandenburgs are still among my favourite pieces of music – they never fail to uplift me; but then, I'd say that of most of Bach's music.
Another memory is the way my dad would make a 'one-man-band' for us: banjo, mouth organ on a strut round his neck (so hand-free), cymbals between his knees, a tambourine strapped to his back and operated by a cord attached to his heel. It's through my dad that I first heard Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and a number of protest singers, and my parents took an interest in the music we all listened to as we grew up.
So music has been a significant part of my life, all my life. My daughter and I still go to gigs together as our tastes are similar: classical, or gyspy-jazz-klezmer fusion, or folk-rock, especially when we can also dance.
But as a player it's rather different for me. I limp along; I can make notes out of several instruments, learned the guitar and banjo a bit, play various recorders and the flute, but none of them very well except the recorders – and am making very heavy weather of learning the Celtic harp. But it's exciting, having always played by ear, learning just a little of the theory of music: why it is that fifths as bass notes will often sit comfortably with so many other melody notes where triads won't necessarily (I think!); considering that in relation to more cosmic proportions and harmonies (and not yet coming up with an answer).
And this is the year I really am going to connect up my very good sound system, bought secondhand from a friend who was emigrating just before I moved in with TM, and currently still on the floor, five years later, in a tangle of completely-incomprehensible (to me, and also I think to TM) wires. We do have music, but it's in the kitchen which is vast and cold and it's not a particularly good system (I'm a snob about the quality of reproduction – it's crucial, to me), and since I've been here I have never once lain on the sofa in the sitting room upstairs in the firelight, and really deeply listened to a piece of music that nourishes and transports me.
It is as if, I've realised lately, I've lost a dimension from my life: a particular colour-register, almost – as if everything is dulled down just a little, like looking through muslin.
The first thing I did here was unpack my books; the second thing should have been my music. J O'D: 'Music is perhaps the most divine of all the art forms in that it creates an active, living and moving form that takes us for a while into another world. There is no doubt that music strikes a deep and eternal echo within the human heart. Music resonates in and with us... Generally we neglect almost completely the nourishment of listening to good and true sounds. The sound quality of contemporary life is utter dissonance and cacophony. We live in a world of mechanical noise which allows no spaces for silence to come through to enfold us... We are forever being stoned by dead sounds... one of the key building materials now is mass concrete. When you strike mass concrete with a hammer, the sound is muffled and dead and swallows itself. When you strike a stone an echo leaps from it; the music of the stone sings out. The sounds of our time have little inner music; all you hear is muffled hunger... in its deepest hearth the soul is musical... is sonorous, echoing the eternal music of the spheres.'
He goes on to say that music is the perfect sister of silence.
He also asks: 'Is the music you hear too small for your growing soul?'
Good music allows one to enter into a great silence; one free of the petty concerns of daily life and the ego, even if only briefly. It consoles, it uplifts, it transforms one, it deepens, it connects. My musician friends tell me that making music with others is better than sex.
I ask myself: why have I chosen to live five years without a daily bath of good music?
* Eternal Echoes – exploring our hunger to belong, John O'Donohue, Bantam Books, 2000.
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