Sunday, 21 February 2016

Music, mysticism and the human spirit

Lent 2016 - Day 12

Not the post I was planning to write - but moved to write this one by chance. Eddie had read that someone in England had been jailed for 'battery', which he found amusing, until I explained. The word in that context triggered the Genesis song from Trick of the Tail, their 1976 album, Robbery, Assault and Battery. So I gave it a listen. And then - why not - my favourite track from that album, Entangled. The last two minutes and ten seconds are guaranteed to send me off into a reverie...

Back in the summer of 1976, when the album was new, I went on holiday to Poland with a group of over 80 or so young Polish people from England, to see our fatherland. Two coaches, lots of travel between cities. Music cassettes would be played on the coaches' sound systems, and Trick of the Tail would regularly get a hearing.

Several plays, enough to become etched in my memory. Entangled would be on the tape deck as the coach headed along empty rural roads, on either sides fields, ripe with wheat; agriculture then was still basic, horses, human hands, scythes, sweated toil. In the distance, the spires of churches, small white clouds on a blue sky. An idyllic scene that enraptured me, a connection - albeit through the glass of a coach window - with the land of my forefathers, a deeply emotional moment. Click on the link below, and set the slider bar to around the 04:24 mark, close your eyes and imagine the scene - summer, Poland, golden fields, farm workers moving through the crop, scythes swinging, wiping brows... timeless.

Can you imagine it? The scene was nowhere near what songwriters Tony Banks and Steve Hackett had in mind as they wrote Entangled. Steve Hackett said of the song: "it was the idea of drifting in and out of consciousness" - a theme I explored two days ago.

The effect that music plays upon our consciousness is partly the result of our experiences, coming of age, dancing, falling in love, musical memories that trigger when the right sequence of notes is played.

But strip away memory - are there universal cues that work for you, me, them, everyone? Do specific successions of notes, musical intervals, major and minor keys, harmonies,beat - do they have the same effect on everyone's consciousness? Are there cultural differences? Is this something we've gotten used to over time? And is it just consciousness - is it biology too? Certainly musical beat and heartbeat have something in common.

And why does a minor chord sound sadder, darker - than a major one? It's only notes, after all?

Music has its place in the mystical. Church music should elevate the spirit and put one in the right state of consciousness. [Polish church music is dirge-like and usually fails to uplift, unlike the polyphonic music of Orthodox Christianity. Unless it's done right - a trained choir in a large church with good acoustics.]

I recall one day at primary school, all eight classes of Juniors were gathered in the upstairs hall, and two ladies came to give a talk about music. They'd play snippets of classical pieces on a record player and they talk to the children and ask questions. One I remember. "What does that put you in mind of?" asked a lady. Ian Lavin, from my class, put up his hand. "Gondolas," he stated, with a great degree of certainty. I was very impressed (we were eight or nine at the time). Thinking back now, the answer may have been prompted by the similarity of the music to a soundtrack accompanying film of Venice shown on black & white TV (this was the mid-1960s). Music and memory - associations with past experience - clearly has an influence on the way our consciousness responds.

Music holds atmosphere, klimat. But not all music. Compare the Romantic composers to what came before. Bach to me sounds mathematical, devoid of intrinsic atmosphere (unless you need a soundtrack signifier that the film is set in the early 18th Century). Chopin, however, immediately whisks me off to moonlit fields rimmed with coppiced willows in Mazowsze - just as Elgar and Vaughan-Williams transport me to Edwardian England. I have similar strong associations sparked by American popular music from the 1930s to the 1950s. The power of music over our conscious minds transcends the here-and-now.

But the big unknown is this: will, some years after my bodily demise, a little boy grow up with an unusual fondness for pop music - British and American - from the 1970s?

Listening to T-Rex - in particular (for those songs never re-resonated with me post-teenage in that universal, timeless way as have done songs by David Bowie, Roxy Music or Pink Floyd) - takes me right back, totally, to the klimaty of the 1970s. I am there in spirit. And yet I can feel that same momentary spiritual congruence listening to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys' New San Antonio Rose (1940).

This time last year:
My first Pendolino journey

This time two years ago:
Poland's universal panacea

This time three years ago:
Of taxis, deflation, crisis and strikes

This time four years ago:
Lent starts again

This time five years ago:
Art Quiz

This time six years ago:
A month before Spring Equinox

This time seven years ago:
The beauty of winter
[some of my finest winter photos]

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