Sunday, April 9, 2017

Why Music?

Why music?  It's a question Amy alludes to, when she tells Angus she never saves anyone's life.

Music is a big part of The Blue Bells Chronicles.  I could fill multiple posts with scenes of music, but here are just three from Westering Home, Book Four of The Chronicles, showing some contrasts in the times, places, and uses of music.


Dark circles etched the king’s eyes.  His auburn hair had more streaks of gray than when last Niall had seen him.  James Douglas, ten years the king’s junior, looked strong and robust beside him, his black hair and beard bristling like a lion’s mane.  His blue eyes wrinkled into a smile at sight of Niall.  He turned to Bruce.  “I believe your tonic is here.”  
Niall dropped to one knee, bowing, holding the harp to his back.  He rose, meeting Bruce’s eyes.  “My apologies, Your Grace.  I bring no tonic.  Only my men and sword.”  
“You’ve heard, surely,” the king rubbed his forehead, “of my daughter’s death....  I’ve been fighting more than ten years without cease.  I’ve brought death and ill fortune on my friends and all whom I love.” 
“Still, I’ve no tonic,” Niall said.  
“You miss the value of your own gifts,” said Bruce.  “My fortune has turned since the early years.  I’ve men and swords aplenty.  You will fight, aye, but I want music for my men’s spirits.”  He propped his elbows on his table, his hands clenched.  “Play for me.”

Westering Home

Niall thought of Shawn.  He’d be prancing across a stage with a sackbut—a trombone—entertaining screaming women
 Westering Home
Shawn grinned at them as if he’d intended a dramatic pause, stepped back with a snap of his fingers and, “A one, a two, a one, two, three, four,” as the curtains swung open, and the waiting jazz band burst into the rapid-fire opening of Opus One.
  Westering Home


Over the past two weeks, I've had invitations to several music events ranging from the Rose Ensemble's medieval music to an unnamed small group playing 70s and 80s ballads to Boogie Wonderland--which is 70s boogie, not Andrews Sisters Bugle Boy boogie.  Big difference!  In a week or so, I will be hearing the Marine band play music very different from any of those.  If I can find some time, I'll make a point of getting back to some big band music and swing dancing (watching, not doing, unfortunately.) A couple of months ago, I attended an opera.  (Diana's Garden, written by a contemporary of Mozart.)

My personal playing has ranged from oratorios with 200 other musicians and singers to musicals to a military brass band (the Farragut Brass Band, which played for Navy ships sailing out or returning) to an 18 piece big band playing hits of the 30s and 40s to flute and harp solos of Celtic folk songs. 


I've been hired to play a wooden fife (with my son playing the bodhran) as dockside entertainment for those waiting to board the re-creation of the tallship Endeavor that was sailing around the world at the time.  I've played hymns and responsorial psalms for church choirs, Easter sunrise services in graveyards, and in a trombone choir performing in a bar (true story, I'm not kidding--I was also about 8 months pregnant at the time.) 

My friend Judd (a fantastic songwriter) and I occasionally play some harp and guitar together.  One discovery we made is that electric guitar and alto flute actually sound great together!



I played for a year in the Minneapolis Chinese Music Ensemble on dizi, which are Chinese bamboo flutes and required learning to read an entirely different form of music notation.  (I would love to still be doing it, but there are simply no more hours in my days.)


Each style is so different.  The crowds are different at each place.  For the opera, long gowns, jewels and even full blown Victorian garb including top hats and black cloaks, were seen.  Nary a cough drop wrapper was to be heard from the crowd once the music started.  Wine at intermission.

The Rose Ensemble--nice evening wear, respectful quiet, applause at the end of each piece.  No drinks.  Absolutely nobody took selfies of themselves jamming to Pelham Humfrey. 



The unnamed band--people continued to talk throughout, eat, and walk over popcorn on the floor.  Lots of beer.

Boogie Wonderland--dancing, jeans, club wear, music so loud people had to shout to be heard in conversation.  Cocktails, drinks with rum and vodka, beer, wine. 



Yet it's all music.  In every case, people went home happy. 

Music is one thing that remains constant across all time, all people, all cultures, all socio-economic classes.  Is there any one thing we can say that is true of all music? 

We all have music, we all have dance.  There is something in us, as human beings, that calls us to both create and listen to music.  We have a deep-seated need for music.  Why?  Why are people willing to pay hundreds of dollars, even thousands, to hear music?

Because music impacts us. 

It lifts us to God, as several people have said to me of Bach's music; inspires us to noble deeds; leads us to war (bagpipes, anyone?); drives us to anger and violence or releases tension.  Can any one of us imagine a celebration without music?  Has there ever been a wedding that did not include dancing--by the bride and groom, by all the guests? 



My son and his wife had their first dance to Come to Me, My Sweetest Friend by the Goo Goo Dolls, and later the entire crowd danced together in a huge circle, singing The Piano Man by Billy Joel.  I've also seen the entire Excel Center singing The Piano Man with Billy Joel, and been in crowds where hundreds and thousands are all singing Sweet Caroline--at the St. Paul Saints games with the Real Japanese Karaoke Guy leading the singing, and in Australia with Neil Diamond himself and thousands singing along.

Music connects us.  Music brings us joy.

More thoughts tomorrow in Part Two on Why Music?  And Angus's answer to Amy's comment.

Until then...I've gahhhta dance!  (Actually, I sort of do, but first I have to take a long walk to pick up more lemonade iced tea and they get kind of weird when I dance in the store aisles.  Maybe it's the cane and top hat they don't like.)





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