Sunday, 30 October 2011

Music to My Ears

Despite having no innate musical ability or love of music, the Upwards’ children are forced through endless exams which they pass, thanks to drilling by teachers and hours of practice. They can only play the piano, clarinet, violin, flute, cello or oboe. They give up with a sigh of relief when they reach university, but probably take it up again when nearing retirement. Working-class Definitelies up north traditionally played in brass bands – that's where orchestras get their brass and percussion players. They are first to the pub and get off with the front row of the sopranos.

Definitely children have drum kits in their bedrooms. They play electric guitars, saxophones and Hammond organs (or “keyboards”), form bands and become an Internet sensation. Sharon Definitely learns to sing like Celine Dion by listening to her “tracks” or “albums” and downloading backing tracks. (Sam says “songs” and “records”. Her parents called the radio the wireless and played records on a gramophone and winced when Sam called them LPs.)

Most Upwards claim to be tone deaf when the subject of singing comes up, apart from Gideon, who says he likes to have a good sing at Christmas when anyone can join in. He thinks Ding Dong Merrily on High is “uplifting”. Upwards who sing take it far too seriously and get into some kind of music that excuses you from expressing any emotion. Jen belongs to a women’s barbershop group who perform wearing a Hollywood version of late Victorian dress made in shiny fabric. Eileen and Howard belong to a historical reconstruction group and sing in the local choral society.

Some Upwards bravely go to Balkan workshops and get rather over-excited – to the point of becoming an instant expert. The music doesn’t sound pretty, but it excuses you from expressing emotion again. And world music workshops are much more friendly than choral societies, where no one speaks to you or invites you to the pub until you’ve belonged for 20 years.

Or else Upwards belong to a parents’ choir attached to their school - very friendly and they can sing songs from the shows and jokey rounds with daring double entendres as well as serious music. But they complain the latter is miserable and “dirge-like” - expressing emotion in public again! Upwards and Weybridges who join choirs enjoy the opportunities for bossing, fussing and pointless admin, as well as undermining, sabotage and feuds.

World music fans in Stoke Newington don't go into the local Turkish music shops. Turkish music is possibly too commercial, and hasn’t been mediated by an Anglo ethnomusicologist. The exponents aren’t far away and patronisable, but here and professional and might patronise US! And you could hardly rip off a few simple arrangements of their songs and teach them in workshops. Actually Stokeys are not interested in Turkish culture, full stop. Instead they become Buddhists and learn Sanskrit, play Gambian drums and eat Thai food. Stokeys are also blind to the Ultra-orthodox Jews who share the place with them – though they love “diversity”.

The Turks who run cafes and drive cabs in Stokey turn off the nice Turkish music as soon as they get a white middle-class customer and put on Heart, Magic or “easy listening”. Sigh.

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