Last Saturday I was reminded why Martin Luther wrote about music, that “it alone produces what otherwise only theology can do, namely, a calm and joyful disposition.”
The occasion for this was a visit to the High Barn, at Great Bardfield, to hear Gordon Giltrap, my favourite solo guitarist, where we were also treated to a set by another guitarist, Clive Carroll.
Now I have to admit I’d never heard of Mr Carroll before this, and as I hadn’t booked the tickets I was a trifle disappointed to have precious ‘Giltrap time’ being taken up by someone else. But within ten minutes I was completely hooked. Carroll has a virtuosity with the guitar which has, literally, to be seen to be believed. A recording may capture the sound, but seeing him live you realize it really is just him, and it really does involve just one guitar.
As well as enjoying the concert, however (and Carroll duetting with Giltrap was an added bonus), I found myself wondering at the power and mystery of music. We refer loosely to animals such as whales and birds ‘singing’. But a biologist will tell us that the sounds they make serve not to entertain but to inform — to mark out territory, to announce danger or food, and so on.
Yet it is surely difficult to treat human music-making in the same reductionist manner. There is certainly a ‘visceral’ effect to some music. Certain beats and rhythms do seem ‘primitive’, in the sense that they draw on an almost biological impulse. But the sheer difficulty of some musical forms surely demolishes the notion that biology is the basis for our production and enjoyment of music.
Indeed, I would go as far as to suggest that music is one of the points at which materialism is confronted by a different view of reality. Luther believed that “the devil, the creator of saddening cares and disquieting worries, takes flight at the sound of music almost as he takes flight at the word of theology.” And the Bible speaks of how David’s music soothed the demon-troubled Saul.
We speak of how music ‘lifts us up’ —but lifts us up to what? To some illusory experience of electrical impulses in the neural cortex? Can it be that all the music of the world, and all the musicians, and all those who have ever listened to music and been moved to sing and to swing, to sway, to dance, to laugh, to march, to cry —all this is just the bumping together of atom and molecules, yet another fortunate by product of the Big Bang, like the ‘Good Samaritan’ impulse of some to help, rather than beat up (or eat) the stranger?
Remember the scene in Philadelphia where Tom Hanks’s character is listening to La Mamma Morta, whilst wheeling his drip-feed round the room? OK it is acting, but the emotion of the scene is instantly recognizable. I am of the view that there is music not only to live for but to die to, precisely because there is (or seems to be) something about music which is truly transcendental. The music, says Hanks’ character, “fills with a hope” —and so do we.
So I want —amongst others —John Renbourn’s The Pelican, Gordon Giltrap’s Nursery Chimes and why not the Cocteau Twins’ Pearly Dewrops Drop? That’ll do for now.
John RichardsonAnonymous users wishing to paste in the comments box need first to select 'preview', then close the preview box. When posting your comments please give a full name and location. Comments without this information may be deleted.
24 November 2009
24 November 2009