I remember that we went widdershins around San Giorgio (the Greek Orthodox church) in Venice, at Easter time in 1974, when I was a student. I walked home with a lighted candle all the way to San Samuele. Did it blow out? I don’t remember.
Today, there was a barbecue going on at one of the row of stone tables where you can play chess. Some men there were being tiresomely noisy, their women looking on, as if circumspect. Perhaps I was just viewing it through my irritation. Maybe they were looking on proudly………heh-heh.
Following on from yesterday’s dollop, here is the second part of my long letter on “new music”:- The dominant musical taste in the UK and other Germanic lands
“Those who ask themselves why the spirit of American-derived popular music is so colossally attractive to some European peoples account for it in various ways. It is fatuous in my view to point to the American music industry as merely another business success and something to do with celebrity. Music is spiritual and the triumph of American popular song and dance is a great spiritual movement I believe. Even Anglican church congregations feel the trend towards popular American styles, raising their arms (incongruously it has to be said), as if they were gospel singers.
I call the advent of modern music (in the sense that most people mean the term) ‘colonisation in reverse’ – a sign that the African diaspora has a lasting and unexpected impact……..all those hymn singing protestant colonists would be very surprised indeed at the turn of events.
And I personally see a connection between the metamorphosis of the Christian religion and the ascendancy of modern popular music. The two things are connected in my view, though they are unconnected in the view of most commentators. Europeans didn’t want to go on forever with their stiffly marching chorales and their pious Gregorian chants, they wanted to sing and dance as Africans feel free to do, without shame. When you see the painful shyness in the case of these ‘Germanic tribes’ here in the north, it is no wonder that they turn in this direction. Yet that they still do not sit in their bodies as happily as Africans do is clear. Africans appear to remain spiritually whole in spite of everything we throw at them. And we are seeking their wholeness, without any concept of what is happening, because our concept of Africa is all to do with poverty and disease. In our feelings however, we recognise its richness and its health. What generations ago would have been described as at best shameful and at worst satanic is now perceived to be authentically human, and that is the treasure that we grasp, perhaps more precious even than all the gold and diamonds we stole from our ‘inferiors’.
It is only time before we have an Archbishop of Canterbury who is ready to start jigging away…..we already have a Prime Minister who thinks that new British music means Oasis……so why not?
The process of what I called ‘colonisation in reverse’ began already at least a hundred years ago. (I can’t go into that in any detail here, but it is obviously clear in the early blues/jazz movement. It spills over also into European art. There is the case of Picasso/Braque cubism for example.) But of course it was never the case that classical music reached the grass roots of British society. A Mozart symphony was always remote from the general public. The so-called Celtic culture is very strong, the English folk one, comparatively weaker. Now however the old English folk music has become as remote as Mozart, whereas some new bit of African music will seem quite familiar in language. The situation in Africa itself, where some former colonies have a very visible Christian presence, is relevant here. A colleague told me recently that more than half the modern music being produced in Ghana is gospel.
Of course this all impacts on us. It is very important. Our activities, as classical musicians, are absolutely dwarfed by this spiritual movement. Europe shows mass disinterest in its traditional musical culture – those individuals at the top of the pyramid just as much as those at the lowest level. It reminds me of an anecdote from my teacher Rubin de Cervin. He told me that when Napoleon entered Venice, the Doge fled from his council chamber tearing off his robes as he ran. So it is now, with Europe in general, it can’t throw off its old music fast enough. I am not arguing for some quasi fascist response to this. Of course not. On the contrary, I think the change has to happen. It is a necessary transformation. It is also democratic.
But it does impinge greatly on us as upholders and extenders of a classical tradition. Indeed, in the face of all this, even some colleagues argue that we ourselves abandon our tradition. No way do we do that!
So I have ascribed a deep meaning beyond dollars and fame to this ‘colossus’ – popular song and dance”.