Over on grisly old Facebook a number of my friends took part a little while back in the challenge to name ten albums that get played from time to time and have stayed important over a period of years. There was a tag line but I forget what it was, precisely; what I do recall is that the original instructions bade you not to talk about the music you were featuring, and to nominate someone else each day to take up the challenge. Surprise, surprise!: I ignored both these entreaties. I didn’t want to be a nuisance to my friends (although I was happy to take up the challenge issued to me, despite letting some weeks go by before I got started) and I couldn’t see the point of not saying why the recordings I was posting were important to me.
Because, for me, that’s where the interest lies. That’s where the connection is most likely to be made. Sympathy between human beings seems a ridiculously undervalued commodity these days, and perhaps there is a kind of arrogance that says ‘it’s enough that I like this, you don’t need to know why.’ Or even, ‘just look how well-listened I am, at the catholicity of my tastes.’ Or something. The stories that some friends told in connection with the music they had selected were really touching however and I wanted to demonstrate the deep importance of the recordings I chose, for my life as I’m living it.
As a result, I think I even generated a couple of CD sales – which is good for everyone. I too purchased CDs that my friends had written about. And once I’d got through ten, I remembered one I’d missed, so I did another ten. There are of course so many. To remember such things is sweet; to have had a long relationship with any work of art is something to be treasured, and the change in how that relationship manifests as time goes by is also of great interest to me. It’s one thing to say, I was there when this happened, and this music accompanied me, or, I remember how this mattered or to what it related when first I encountered it. But then works come and go; you always know they’re there I guess but weeks, months, even years might go by in which you don’t attend closely to them. And when something happens to remind you, when you hear a snatch unexpectedly and hurry back to remind yourself of the whole (gosh that’s what we’d call around here an ‘oo er’ turn of phrase) the revelation can be breathtaking. In being reminded you experience the artwork again, and very probably you do recall what it was that it meant whenever it was, in the past. But you are actually having a different, a fresh experience of it on the second, third, fourth time, and later still this or these will contribute to your growing understanding of the work and your developing experience of it. I’m older now, I know more and I’ve done more, and I greet again this old friend, this mark in the sand, this earlier version of myself. To reacquaint yourself with a known work is a new exposure to it; you listen or you view or whatever with the knowledge in the background.
We all know this, I suppose. And in the way I’ve just described it, it can be completely private. It’s you and me, work of art; this is ours. Still, that you have developed a relationship with a work of art and choose to share it can be a quite different kind of thing. A little time ago I wrote another post where I was lamenting the triumph of the stream and what I feel to be a growing impersonality of musical experience. Because yes while you’re there with your cordless headphones giving you the music you want to hear it can be very isolated, or because someone else has selected your playlist you have less of a part in the exchange. (Contrast the mixtape with the playlist, just for a second. Think it over: my friend gave me this, or, some remote stranger organised what I need in order to feel this way. I’ll go with the mixtape. I receive the music, but also I get a picture of my friend; I feel the energy and the love that went into preparing this thing to share with me, done with me in mind. Later, we’ll talk about it and laugh and look each other in the eye. It’s, you know, personal.) In that post I suggested that one of the things you can do, if you really want to be supportive of music and musicians, is get friends together to audition an album in company. I’ve no idea how often this happens but think about it: you spend time sharing music, listening together, and then you can reflect! Share responses! What an idea.
Last weekend my double trio shared its work on my big piece with whom you can be who you are in a CD launch at St Stephen’s Richmond. The performance was rapturously received and I was very proud of all we’d done. I stood up with my colleagues taking bows at the end and smiled my head off. I thought, I never, ever want to forget this moment. I am here with these musicians whom I love and we have made something of our own, and we have shared it. The recipients seem deeply grateful. We are together in this.
The sharing of music is one of the things that can bring people together. Obvious, a truism even, but frequently ignored. And I don’t simply mean ‘put them in the same room to hear something’, either. The lessons we can learn from collaborative musical practice – as performers or observers – can model our behaviour in the world. A music education does wonders for the child’s brain, they say. Okay, but actually listening to music in company, actually doing the feeling and the expressing is even better, and goes way beyond the n=1, it’s-all-about-me-ism of the educational theory. I want to say something grandiose like ‘music will save us’, except I’m not sure it will. But I’d certainly like to give it the chance.