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Archive for the ‘from the music room’ Category

starlings

In his essay, “On Experience”, Montaigne wrote

Nor is there anything more remarkable in Socrates than the fact that in his old age he finds time to take lessons in dancing and playing instruments, and considers it well spent.

Socrates? In his old age? Dancing and playing music?! Well, I never…..

I thought about that the other day when I saw the starlings gathering again in the trees at the top of vineyard. They gather in their dozens, then their hundreds, and then, I suspect (because I haven’t tried to count them), in their thousands. As they settle into the trees they begin a great commotion, all singing and whistling and shouting it seems at the same time. They can keep this up for several minutes and so far I haven’t been able to figure out whether or not they are singing together or just all singing at the same time.

No matter really, because all of a sudden the whole flock falls completely silent – not a cheep! The silence is always, and I mean always, followed by flight. Suddenly they take off as one and fly away from the trees.

Then you can see something quite remarkable. The flock will divide into sub-groups and be joined by yet others you hadn’t even noticed coming. They will swoop down onto the vines, or soar high into the sky. I have no idea how you predict which way they are going to fly next and I can’t see that they all follow a single leader.

They really do seem to fly as one great organism.

I don’t know why they gather and behave like this. I fancy they just like singing and dancing. A bit like Socrates did, it seems…..

When they fly directly overhead the sound of their wings beating the air can take your breath away.

I’m sure they enjoy what they are doing even more than I enjoy watching them, but they affirm for me somehow how one of the best things to do in life is to enjoy living, to celebrate your music and your movement and your ability to join with, and flourish with, others…..

starlings in the tree

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September’s issue of Philiosophie magazine has an interview with the Japanese author, Kenzaburô ôe who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1994.

It’s a fascinating and striking article. He has been a controversial figure in Japan because of the subject matter of his novels, one of which challenges the official version of what happened in Okinawa at the end of the Second World War. Officially, 100,000 Okinawans committed suicide claiming loyalty to the Emperor rather than be over-run by the invading Americans. Kenzaburô says this is a lie. He says the Imperial Army massacred the Okinawans and they died called for their mothers, not swearing loyalty to the Emperor.

He has also shone a clear light on the reality of life for those who survived the blasts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Telling their stories shows how these particular bombs didn’t just kill and wound when they were dropped, but continue to damage those who survived right into the present day.

It’s no surprise then to read that since Fukushima he actively campaigns for the abandonment of nuclear power in Japan.

A big part of the story of his life is the birth of his son in 1963. Hikari was born with a severe brain defect and his parents had to decide to either let him die, or have an operation which would likely leave him severely mentally handicapped. They chose the latter. In addition to his severe handicap he has autism and he didn’t speak until he was six.

His first words were actually a sentence. The family was walking in the forest and at the sound of a particular bird call, Hikari said, in exactly the same way a radio presenter of a nature documentary would, “that is the call of the (such an such bird)” – and it was! After that his parents started buying bird song CDs and Hikari learned them all. They moved on to music, playing him Bach and Mozart, and were astonished to find, as he got older, that he could transcribe into musical notation perfectly any piece of music after hearing it just once. More than that, he went on to compose his own music.

Kenzaburô says his son has never expressed any emotion but his music is deeply emotional. His first CD sold 400,000 copies in Japan.

Here’s a video clip of one of his pieces.

Kenzaburô’s daily life is spent in his study reading and writing, while his son sits by him listening to, and writing, music.

A remarkable man.

Right at the end of the interview he says of creative work that it is important to find your own voice, or your own style – to be careful not to “get lost in the universal”.

I like that a lot. Too often we lose our singular uniqueness by trying to be accepted, or to fit in, or to be popular. Isn’t it more important to be the one unique person who only we can be?

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The Mission

I recently received my first “Discover Weekly Playlist” from Spotify and so far, I’ve really enjoyed every single track. So, does Spotify “know” me?

We have more and more services like this around us – Amazon telling us what other people who bought “this” also bought (or even looked at!), Apple telling us what other apps other people bought who bought this particular one….and so on. This is something which Maria Popova has written about in her excellent Brain Pickings

I recently found myself in an intense conversation with a friend about privacy — why it matters; how much of it we’re relinquishing and what for; whether it is even possible to maintain even a modicum of control over our own privacy at this point…….It suddenly struck me that our cultural narrative about privacy is completely backward: What we really fear is not that the internet — or a prospective employer, or a nosy lover, or Big Brother — knows too much about us, but that it knows too little; that it fails to encompass Whitman’s multitudes which each of contains; that it reduces the larger, complex truth of who we are to a few fragmented facts about what we do; that it hijacks our rich, ever-evolving personal stories and replaces them with disjointed anecdotal data.

I hadn’t thought of it that way around when it comes to the internet, but she is definitely onto something. The underlying truth of what she is referring to is similar to what I read years ago in Mary Midgley’s “Wisdom, Information and Wonder” where she wrote –

One cannot claim to know somebody merely because one has collected a pile of printed information about them

That observation seemed absolutely true to me in the domain of health care where sadly, far, far too often, “data” or “information” is ALL that is known about a particular patient as individual narratives are dismissed as “anecdotes” or “unscientific subjectivity”. That dominant way of practising Medicine always seemed to me to be just the opposite of how it should be done. Information, or data, can tell you something about some aspect of a person’s disease but it’s a long way from the person’s own narrative.

One of the dangers of substituting data for narrative is the presumption of knowing – I used to say to patients that each of us spends a lifetime trying to really know ourselves (and I’m not sure any of ever complete that task!) so how can I presume to know them from hearing just a little of their story over the course of an hour or so? Frankly, reducing their stories to a few data points just takes doctors and nurses even further away from knowing their patients.

Maria Popova’s recommendation to counter this is to “master the art of personal narrative” –

Perhaps the most potent antidote to this increasingly disempowering cultural shift is to grow ever more thoughtful and deliberate about how we tell our own stories

Thought provoking, huh?

Even when someone uses the personal data we’ve shared to offer us more music, books, restaurants etc, that we may like, I think its best to keep these things as hints. That’s why “discover weekly” works for me – it doesn’t assume the impossible – they don’t know me – but I’m happy to have them help me discover new music. And I’ll use some of their suggestions to continue to make my own playlists.

Where are you with this issue of information, privacy and how we make ourselves known to the world?

 

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To the sea again

I’ve reached “Y” again in my “A to Z of Becoming”, and the first “becoming” verb I thought of for the letter “y”, was “yearn”.

This is a tricky one, because yearning has a bit of a bad press. It’s often associated with wanting what you don’t have, or, in other words, with dissatisfaction. But I think it emerges from something very positive and creative.

When we yearn for something there is the possibility that we are getting in touch with our heart’s desire. The French philosopher, Deleuze, whose writings were the original spark for this blog, talked of “lines of flight” – and interesting metaphor to change the way we think about things. When we look up at the sky and see a plane flying past the moon
Flying past the moon

, we can see a bit of a trail. We can see something of where it’s come from and what direction it’s heading in. It’s an image like that which came to my mind when I read about the “lines of flight” and for me it’s an encouragement to see something in its context – the context of where it’s come from and where it’s going.

When I think of yearning from this perspective, it seems to me that yearning arises from our heart felt desires, from our deepest longings. So, one of the benefits of yearning is to become aware of what our heart’s true desires are.

As K D Lang sang in “Constant Craving”

Maybe a great magnet pulls
All souls to what’s true

Do these heart desires push us forward from within, or are they magnets pulling us towards something, somebody, some place?

When you stop and reflect and wonder about what stirs your longings, your yearnings, you have at the chance to get in touch with some of your most heart felt desires.

There’s something else about yearning – it pulls us out of balance.

I know people talk a lot about balance as a good thing, but it isn’t everything. All living creatures are “complex adaptive systems” and one of the main ways that such systems grow and develop is by tending towards the “far from equilibrium” points. At those places the system can fall to pieces, tipping into chaos, or it can transform to a whole new level, as we see in “dissipative systems“. The “far from equilibrium” points are where our yearnings take us.

So, there’s something potentially enormously creative about yearning. It can pull us towards the new and the heart-felt.

Remember John Masefield’s poem?

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
                                                          And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

zen seascape

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Take me to the church

I think you can look at various elements in this photo and be stimulated to reflect on the “life of the spirit” – in the countryside, in the vines, in the barrels!, in the “place of worship”, in the sky, in the sea…..

When I first looked at this photo I heard this song in my head (I like this version from Postmodern Jukebox) –

ooh! And you can FEEL it in this music!

So, how about you? What does “life of the spirit” mean to you?

What stirs the invisible in you?

Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les jeux. Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

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redstart on the antenna
I haven’t posted any music here for a while, but this photo I took the other day instantly reminded me of one of my favourite songs…..

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Opera Paris

Music.

That most human of practices. Yes, I know birds sing and so on, but look at the place of music in human life.

Is there any other creature which creates and enjoys music as much as human beings? I don’t think so. Indeed, I think we tend to hear the music in Nature, or rather, that we turn the sounds we hear into music. We even talk about the music of the spheres, as a way of thinking about the structure of the cosmos.

Iain McGilchrist, in his wonderful The Master and His Emissary, discusses the theory that music preceded language and that rings true for me.

Music is as individual as we are. How easy we find it to recognise a particular singer, or guitarist for example? Or to recognise the work of a particular composer?

Music moves us. It can affect our mood, lifting us up, getting us going, slowing us down, calming us.

Music opens the floodgates of memory taking us back in an instant to a particular time of our lives, or to a particular event.

Music connects us. It connects us to individuals in our lives, both those still with us, and those who have passed on. Sharing the experience of a concert can create an intense feeling of solidarity and belonging with the others in the audience.

Music moves us physically too, affecting our heart rate, our breathing, the release of a cascade of hormones in our bodies which change our internal environment…..one of the ways in which music can heal.

Music can inspire us, stimulating our creativity or helping us to achieve certain goals.

These days it is so easy to create playlists, to gather together particular works of music which can influence us in certain ways. And we can share those playlists with others too.

So, here’s an idea. Why not make yourself some playlists? List some of the ways in which music affects YOU and then gather some particular examples together to make playlists for each of those ways. Then use those playlists where and whenever you desire. Experience for yourself just how music can re-enchant your life.

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