This year’s men’s football world cup reminds me I wrote an article about football and music not so long ago, although then it was prompted by the death of a football star in year when a number of musical heroes were also passing (hee hee).
Exam season is the ideal time to reflect and shudder at what we put people through at school. Here’s a glimpse of a better world that I knocked up a while ago for Classical Music magazine.
Ok, ok, I promise to use vibrato more if you promise to stop describing (and hearing) music without vibrato as “dead”.
Practice is an addiction in that we are motivated by a certain belief that solving one more, one final technical problem will mean the world cannot fail to take notice at last.
I finally had the opportunity to hear Morton Feldman’s second string quartet (the one that lasts five hours), at a festival in Monaco called Printemps des Arts de Monte-Carlo, and I wrote about the experience for the Strad magazine.
It was the Quatuor Béla who played it, not for the first time nor for the last since I understand they have future performances lined up. Even if I’m not there, I very much want them to programme Webern’s 6 Bagatelles in the second half.
I’ll let you into a secret: not playing music is torture. You can fend off the torment by doing some practice and there’s a little bit more to it but really: a day not performing music with people is sheer torture. And when you know other people are, and you are not? It’s torture.
While doing some background reading as preparation for my first experience playing Peter Grimes, I discovered an unpublished poem by George Crabbe that would surely have resulted in a somewhat different opera had Britten come across it.
There once was a fisherman named Grimes
Accused of some terrible crimes:
The mood got so dark
He said: stuff this for a lark!
And sailed off for sunnier climes.
Orchestras are sometimes presented as a model for businesses to emulate: the conductor as managing director, different instrumental sections as different corporate departments and so on, all working harmoniously to some common purpose.
But if your business is making cars and you somehow ended up making something different like a bicycle, or worse still something of no commercial value or practical use, that would be a disaster. In an orchestra, that would be tremendous.
Music is organised sound: unmistakeably the words of a composer (Varèse). A musician would prefer: music is expressive sound.
Did you know that, before modern-day industrial techniques made mass production of rosin possible, local authorities were the only providers of the stuff? They would hang great municipal cakes of it in public places and local fiddlers would prep up their bows en route to the gig.
Thankfully those days are over. While some nostalgic observers lament the disappearance of the dangling amber nugget from the urban landscape, now every string player can treasure their own supply, keeping it nestled in a personalised velvet cushion-lined box, wrapped in a silk handkerchief, until such time as it is dropped and shatters on a stone floor leaving only shards to be applied to the bow hair hair by hair.
Let’s not forget that with their removal, the burden on the taxpayer is now substantially lighter too! And, since we are speaking of burdens being lightened, that brings me to another way in which local government could ride to the rescue of the travelling musician.
By providing cheap and easy access to publicly owned music stands, which would be available on street corners in much the same way as are London’s colourful if ungainly hire bikes, the authorities would alleviate one of life’s most irksome requests: please bring a stand. Even the selfish bastards who generally can’t be bothered to do such a thing (“Oh sorry, I totally forgot/thought there would be enough/had to take it to the dry cleaners”) would benefit, being henceforth able to go through life without having that misdemeanour as a burden tugging on their conscience like rosin on a string.