Kate Romano: Erika Fox is isolating in Wales and we keep in touch regularly by phone and email. On reading my recent blog We Need To Talk About Classical Music, she emailed me with what she calls her ‘tuppenyworth, which will probably consist mostly of memories, anecdotes and vague thoughts’. I think you’ll agree that they are far more than a ‘tuppenyworth’… Exchanging emails with Erika is always a joy and an education and she never fails to make me think. I love the way her quick, lively mind flits effortlessly and fluently from one thought to the next, making unexpected connections and firing off new threads of activity – she is thoughtful, erudite, witty and cuts straight to the point with biting clarity. In many ways, its not dissimilar to her music. I’m delighted she is happy for me to share her words here with you on the emotional power of music (and other things…)
Erika Fox: ‘When I was asked by Richard Causton to write some words in the booklet for Jeremy Dale Roberts’ funeral, in my eulogy I mentioned something that struck me very forcibly. I visited him 4 days before he died and he was extremely weak, in and out of sleep (mercifully), and the first thing he said to me was “what are you listening to at the moment?”. I was thrown, because of the situation, but being in the midst of preparing for a talk I was due to give in Vilnius on ‘play’, in music, taking as my model Kurtag’s ongoing oeuvre, ‘Jatekok’, I told him it was Kurtag.
I say I was momentarily thrown, but should not have been, because to be the kind of musician Jeremy was, impending death was no obstacle. Music was simply LIFE and would be so until his last breath.
For some years now, I have been struck by the seemingly superficial (as I feel it) way music and the arts have been portrayed. Not necessarily by the ‘general public’ (whoever is meant by that phrase) , but by some musicologists or concert promoters and many who speak of and think of ‘the music industry’. There has been, to my mind, a belittling of the art. A superficiality of thought, in favour of ‘easy listening’. In other words a desire not to ‘be disturbed’, when the very reality of great art is its necessity TO disturb.
Nadia Boulanger:It is easier to analyze a work in its form, in its evolution,
than simply to love it with all the forces of our heart. It is easier to define its peculiarities
and its details than to draw out of it its emotion, its thought.
While not being so naive as to believe that emotion produces money, or that one can live in this world without remuneration (as is now dreadfully and painfully obvious to everyone who has had their livelihood almost or completely destroyed over the past few months), but it has seemed as though the respect afforded to those who create and produce wonderful sounds which have been and still are the comfort, joy and raison d’être of countless people the world over, has been eroded in favour of some notion that to feel the power of classical music in this way is ‘elitist’.
It is of course true that techniques have to be learned, and people analyse the nuts and bolts of composition, and players practice many hours each day of their lives to be able to reproduce correctly the symbols on paper (Boulanger again: ‘Art is not emotion. Art is the medium in which emotion is expressed) but my father used to quote his mother (whom I never knew) who said that to make a tasty meal the main ingredient has to be love.
Early in May 2006, the BBC decided to play wall to wall JS Bach for a whole week. It happened to be the week my husband was dying. During my many visits to and from the hospital I used to put the car radio on, knowing that Bach would provide the wherewithal for me to bear what was to come. I can honestly say that Bach preserved my sanity.
One of the all-important aspects of music is that it moves in time. No matter, then, whether one is experiencing problems, difficulties, anxieties that beset our everyday existence, the duration of a work constitutes a visit to another world for the time it takes. A world in which the mundane aspects of life are absent, and one is vividly reminded of the fundamental joys and sorrows of our common humanity. And having heard and loved a particular work for a lifetime, one can still be surprised by something one has never noticed before, and a new emotion will emerge.
It is so important, therefore, to preserve communal listening. Live classical music is not only the livelihood of those that compose and play it, but to share the experience with an audience is quite literally to be at one with hundreds of people. What other experience in life can possibly equate with being at one with hundreds of people, at the same time, in the pursuit of something beautiful?
I consider the present disastrous situation, where we have closed concert venues, and freelance musicians have been deprived of their living, as a most appalling time of famine. Being without the means of sharing music is tantamount to the loss of an absolutely essential ingredient for living.
Of course it is understood and obvious that because of the pandemic drastic measures were and are necessary. People have been seriously ill, so very many have died, and the personal tragedy of some lives is quite unbearable to contemplate. However, not enough is being said and understood by the government about the deprivation taking place by the closure of concert venues and the neglect of freelance musicians. That is, unfortunately no surprise, because the great importance of classical music has not been recognised by successive governments in the UK EVER, and particularly in recent years, despite the fact that we have many musicians of great talent. The lack of recognition of the importance of the arts in general is nothing short of scandalous. The fact that classical music is regarded as less vital because it is a so-called ‘minority’ interest shows a true lack of understanding of what constitutes society.
I think it might be helpful if concert halls were to open and certain concerts repeated with limited numbered seats ensuring social distancing, and perhaps considering allowing audiences in to rehearsals if the performers were willing? I know I would welcome such a thing. I honestly believe classical music lovers would be willing- those that could afford something- to give a regular donation for about a year or even longer, to a central body for the continuation of live concerts in different venues. There could be chamber music in private homes with a limited audience. For any of these things to take shape there would have to be government subsidies of course.
The fact is that we are living in a country that has always undervalued the arts. I am reminded of a scene in a film called ‘The Ruling Classes’ with Peter O’Toole, in which an upper class judge accidentally hangs himself in a sexual make-believe dressing up exercise. And when a guest at the posh pile remarks ‘well he was always a bit artistic’ the reply came ‘well he may have been a bit eccentric, but he WAS my brother-in-law and I won’t have you calling him artistic!’PS I think I told you, I used to be an adviser for a scheme thought up by Yehudi Menuhin, called ‘Live Music Now’. You could audition for the scheme if you were under 30, and think of your performances as practice runs, as it were. I would go to some of these events and then fill out a questionnaire and/or write something I thought relevant. I mention this because I shall NEVER forget peoples’ responses. One that sticks in my mind particularly took place at a care home for young men with special needs. Anyway when I arrived the young men were sitting round the room. They seemed downcast, subdued and generally un-engaged. Then a steel band arrived. The band started up, and it was quite literally as though a light had been turned on. Everyone looked up. Many smiled. One young man got up and reached out to ask me to dance! To tell you the truth, the whole thing brought tears to my eyes, and then, so so sad—when they stopped playing everyone sank down again, as before. If ever there was visible proof of the power of music, it was magically there.