It’s been a strange few weeks. After the very sad news that my dear friend and mentor Philip Weller had died, I’ve been running to the end of work to stop and see family over Christmas, and have been slogging away the past few days to tie up loose ends before a tomorrow’s New Year celebrations. Then, finally, I get a proper holiday – a whole week off. My first since August. And whilst I can’t wait for the break, and need it quite badly (!), I’ve also got one eye on the diary for my return, because I have to hit the ground running once I get back from my time away.
In fact, the first thing I’m doing the morning after my holidays end is giving a lecture to a lovely group of visiting students from Delaware University, as part of a programme that brings a group of liberal arts undergrads to London every two years, to explore the music and culture of the city. I give them a lecture – one of many they receive – on the history of the Proms and its role in British concert life. So yesterday, I dug out my notes from 2016, and went through the slides and examples to check everything still worked and update them to the present day. When I was playing around with my YouTube links, I found a little video that the BBC put up of this year’s (2018) Proms season in four minutes. I pressed play rather idly, really just to prompt me in my notes to make sure I hadn’t missed anything.
But I very rapidly found my attention focused on the screen. Not just because of the fantastic soundtrack, composed of a variety of clips from across the Proms season; but because of the people in the film. The conductors, poised and twinkling with anticipation at their orchestras. The soloists entirely lost in the moment. The choirs, the dancers, the huge massed forces on stage, the audience… the people. These people, these thousands and thousands of people who were moved by, involved in, utterly rapt and dedicated to, music. It’s completely transfixing.
And then this evening, as I sat here thinking that maybe I didn’t have anything to blog about this week, particularly, I was scrolling down my Facebook feed and found a video of the superlative young Dutch ensemble Seldom Sene performing a Vivaldi concerto on a bunch of plastic recorders and a Casio keyboard. They are sitting on the floor of what appears to be a bike shed. They have no music stands. The Casio sound is pretty revolting. It matters not one jot. What you see – and hear – is a group of fantastic musicians having a ridiculous amount fun giving a virtuosic rendition of a piece on a load of pretty rubbishy instruments. Because they love it – because they are people, wonderfully talented people, who adore music and have worked incredibly hard to be able to make it, this brilliantly, in situations as silly as this.
So consider this the New Year’s message from me. In the midst of everything else, the good and the bad, the ups and the downs, there is music. It can be life-saving, and life-sustainingly important, whether you’re the woman on the podium in front of the orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall, or the guy who blew his last few pounds getting a standing ticket at the Proms to hear them play. It can speak to you directly if it’s played on the world’s most expensive Stradivarius, or a crappy plastic recorder. There aren’t words that can capture it properly, because if there were, we wouldn’t need it. But oh, isn’t it grand? I hope your 2019 is full of it. Happy New Year.