Culture wars are dangerous and dehumanising to us all
By Gavin Ashenden
MUSIC in general and singing in particular is good for you. Even in 1600, the composer William Byrd wrote a rather charming list of reasons explaining why. It ranged from being good for your health as you learnt to breathe properly, to being good for the soul as it was a very effective way of being grateful.
I’ve never found an explanation of why music is so powerful and emotionally moving. It may have something to do with encapsulating a sense of longing and ecstasy. It gives us a taste of wonder and delight that can’t be rationally explained even if we knew where the neural pathways are that carry the feelings.
For me at least, it always acts as a signpost, pointing me beyond the physical, rational and material; lifting my eyes and my heart in a direction I take to be heaven.
It can be simple – anyone can hum and chortle a bit – or complicated. Orchestras are complicated; choirs can be simple.
I rather like the fact that music is a place where atheists and believers can meet on neutral territory. We both know something wonderful and exquisite is happening when we sing together, even if we can’t agree on how and why.
If anything extra was needed to further convince me that the culture wars we are all caught up in are dangerous and dehumanising to us all, the way the ‘Left’ are using music as a tool of political leverage, would do it.
The early signs that this unthinking fundamentalism was about to wreak havoc in the musical world if it could, started with the complaints that the classical composers, were ‘male, stale and pale’ and so should be avoided.
At one level, it’s true of course. Composers were mainly men. Women were often preoccupied with giving birth (but don’t ever forget the amazing composing medieval nun, Hildegaard of Bingen).
And yes, they were European. Some of them got a bit stale and old on the outside, while remaining fresh and inventive musically on the inside. I’ve always felt that composing music happened when you heard something from the outside, rather than invented it from inside.
But however the mysterious process happens, I am always totally blown away that Mozart or Schubert actually heard the music they did, and put it down as hieroglyphics on paper, so we could hear it too.
I have never cared at all about their nationality, or their sex, or their wealth, or their star signs, the colour of their hair, their size, or their politics (if they had any). They heard the music. They sang the tunes; they shared the ecstasy. And we can sing and hear the same music.
Shakespeare gave us a dire warning about people who didn’t ‘get music’ (in the Merchant of Venice). He said they were dangerous.
‘The man that hath no music in himself, nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils; The motions of his spirit are dull as night, And his affections dark as Erebus. Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.’
As it happens he had never met Peter Goodman, who was recently promoted to be chief constable of Derbyshire. One may hope that Shakespeare’s warning does not apply to Mr Goodman who may be a kind and gentle family man who is good with cats, for all we know. But we do know that he doesn’t get ‘the music’; nor has he learnt to ‘think outside the box (which is as nice a way as I can put it).
This vacuum in Mr Goodman’s soul became a public matter when he discovered that there was a Derbyshire Constabulary male voice choir.
As it happened, there are no serving policemen in it and it costs nothing, rather it raises large sums for charities. But Mr Goodman wanted it closed down.
He said that he ‘did not want a group of middle-aged white men to be a public face of the Derbyshire Constabulary’.
Leaving aside this attitude as being essentially ageist, racist and sexist, what he is really saying is that the exquisite music of a male voice choir is de-legitimised by his cultural political-equality agenda.
He lives in a world where even if you closed your eyes to hear the beauty, hope, joy, ecstasy and entertainment of the music, you dare not open your eyes in case your ageist, racist and sexist sensibilities censored and invalidated the glorious voices, the skilled singing and the melody of the music.
The world he has been trained to live in and then as a senior (white, elderly male – ‘check your privilege’) policeperson impose on his county, is a sadder and blander world than it need be. But then that’s what happens when you impose ‘equalities’ on society, mistakenly thinking it can apply to people and values, when really, it only works for numbers.
Music may well be the food of love as well as a window into heaven. It is certainly an antidote to hate. Let’s keep playing it, singing it, listening to it, and celebrating it and doing all we can to shame the progressives with the tunefulness of our laughter.