If Music Be . . .

DURING THE PAST year I have spent many hours exploring a great variety of music. This time has been spent with a friend who has a great library of CDs and very wide musical tastes. My knowledge and understanding has certainly improved. But anyone today could take the same journey. Why? How? Because the sheer volume and variety of music available to us all is amazing. Modern audio technology enables us to access a huge amount of contemporary music and to recover from the archives almost any music that anyone has ever recorded. It is a fantastic facility. Orsino, in Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ asked if he could have “excess of it” (music). We can have whatever style we enjoy.

How will it affect us? Some years ago I wrote in this newspaper about the way in which, since the beginning of the Romantic Movement in the Arts in the middle of the 18th century, Music had become the most important of the Arts. Its ability to communicate directly with the unconscious mind, free from the limiting power of words or the shape of images, however abstract, gave it a unique power. For some the effect is visible. I spend a large part of my life talking to people about jazz. Naturally, I play examples. Soon, most of those present are tapping their feet, but one or two begin to move their whole body, such is the power of rhythm. Research has shown that rhythm induces a trance-like state which makes the feelings aroused by the melody stronger.

When my wife was studying psychology at university she took part in an experiment which sought to assess the power of music to arouse, excite or relax. Students were invited to listen to various types of music to see which music affected which types of personality. The results were very revealing. Nikki was in a very small category where any type of music had a relaxing effect.

As I write this article, I learn that a young woman from Brighton, Celeste (pictured), has been rewarded for her songs. They certainly make quite an emotional impression, but, above all, they seem to be inspired by a number of musical influences. Would it be too much to claim that she has benefited from the “excess” of music which we can all now enjoy?

The past was very different. In 1952 I began my National Service in the RAF. For basic training twenty of us slept in a typical barrack hut of the time. On Sunday evenings, after lights out at 10pm, someone would switch on a radio for the latest hits broadcast by Radio Luxemburg. The music was atrocious, lacking any quality of melody and with the most stupid lyrics. A typical song would be Guy Mitchell singing ‘Pretty Little Black Eyed Susie’ or some similar banality. The only singer of quality I remember is Kay Starr, singing, ‘The Wheel of Fortune’.

Dear Reader, you are probably too young to remember such music. How lucky you are!

Peter Batten

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