When words aren’t enough

I was really upset and of course absolutely horrified to see the news about what happened yesterday in Boston.

People are reacting, struggling to make sense, searching for answers, plus of course those involved are dealing with serious injuries, supporting those who have lost family or friends, trying to come to terms with what they have seen and experienced.

The aggression shown by attacking such a major event was in complete contrast to the unity that was demonstrated by the football world yesterday, who came together to mark the 24th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. I was particularly struck by the picture posted by Manchester United on their website – two clubs with such ferocious rivalries and historical bad blood but yet demonstrating such respect.

Sport has traditionally been held up as something that unites people in times of trouble. This can seem at odds with the ways it can also divide, either in terms of politics, religion, or even gender (Boston was where Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to enter the all male field, at a time when it was believed women were physically incapable of distance running).

To attack an event where people are doing nothing more (or less!) than challenging themselves mentally, physically and emotionally by attempting one of the oldest sporting events in the world. To attack those who are not just competing but supporting. It is hard to see how a city marathon can be a political target.

After all the hatred that poured out last week over the death of Margaret Thatcher, it’s easy to feel as though our world is an unpleasant and hostile place to be. I find it so hard to understand where such feelings come from – and I’m not sure whether this is good or bad, whether this makes me apathetic or just a compassionate human being.

I was struck by a quote posted by the New York Philharmonic last night, from Leonard Bernstein. Previously I only knew of his wonderful music for West Side Story, and was aware that he was a composer and conductor. When listening to recordings to help me with a harp cadenza I was working on, I discovered a video of him performing and conducting (!) the Ravel Piano Concerto. I heard of some books and transcriptions of talks he had presented about music. I am slightly embarrassed by my lack of knowledge of such an important figure, but this is why I am doing what I am doing.


I thought about it for a while. Is music really THAT important, THAT influential in such difficult times? When people are injured, killed, suffering, is it flippant to be thinking of such trivial things as music? This then led me to question whether I am really confident that what I am doing is sufficiently important to be worth the sacrifices I have made.

I can only conclude that the answer is, YES it is that important. NO it is not flippant. NO I am not really confident enough in myself just yet but YES it is worth it.

People look to music for comfort, for when they cannot express what they want to say, or when the only way they can express what they want to say is not to use words.

We use music to mark occasions, making great effort to choose just the right song or piece for a funeral, a wedding, a concert, or background music for a film or presentation.

When I can’t make sense of what I am thinking or feeling, good or bad, I have a couple of albums and songs I always turn to.

I am completely at a loss to understand why one of them is Woodface by Crowded House – it’s a great album, sure enough, but I can never put my finger on what it is that is so enduring. I hear something new every time I listen to it, and I always listen to it in its entirety. I bought it at a difficult time in my life, and it’s immensely comforting. Yet other music that I associate with this time is almost unbearable to listen to now. I’m not sure why this should be.

The others are Ageispolis by Aphex Twin and An Ending (Ascent) by Brian Eno. These are perhaps a little more obviously deep and meaningful.

I’m all out of words now.


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