Friday, June 13, 2008

The sound of music

Clare and I went to the performance of Humperdink's 'Hansel and Gretel' at the Millennium Centre this evening, beautifully done by WNO. Having not heard it for many years, we were both struck by the familiarity of several of its key melodies. I guess when you've been listening to music of all kinds of the best part of sixty years that you can remember, all sorts of musical memories are lodged in the deeper recesses of the unconscious mind. If heard many times, either on BBC Radio TV or live performances, no single place, time, feeling or memory inevitably attaches itself to the sound you recollect. As a cleric, I suspect that's even truer of certain pieces of liturgical music and organ music. The music simply becomes part of who you are.

That's fine, so long as there's still an input of new music, stretching awareness. Our generation has been fortunate with the kind of access we have to music via TV and the internet from all over the world, whether ancient or fresh and new. The hunger for new statements in sound breeds a certain impatience with a vast amount of contemporary commercial production. There are so many parts of the planet whose music is different from what is familiar to satisfy some of the need for the new, but this has its limits. Music that fuses traditions from different cultures is often exciting and refreshing - representing genuine conversation between creative cultures.

The amazing innovation of our era is electronic music - amazing for its potential to explore so many different worlds of sound and rhythm. Depending on your personal taste this ranges from the exquisitely refined to the downright disturbing, from the ethereally abstract to the banal and concrete. It's a new form of musical language, but one has to remember that it issues from the humans behind the machines - strange indeed, because it rarely has the 'edge' - i.e. whatever it takes to make you sit up and take notice, which accompanies much 'fusion' music.

I love the way opera makes such powerful use of visual imagery to create a frame fo reference for hearing the music, often it seems to me - at least with WNO productions - very attentive to the cultural layers and textures that can evoke the setting of the drama. Such thought and preparation, just to allow music to speak for itself. Would that in the church we were in the habit of giving the same level of consideration to the presentation of our familiar liturgical actions! But having said that - would I know where to start in the place I am called to produce an act that makes worship possible in such a familiar context?

No comments: