A COMPOSER'S BLOG

Tony Haynes, composer/director of the Grand Union Orchestra, tells the inside story of his music for the orchestra, its musicians and colourful history.

70: Democracy needs Imagination

To work effectively, democracy needs freedom of thought and expression if citizens are to make informed decisions in casting their votes; it also requires empathy – the capacity to appreciate and relate to the lives and concerns of others, however different from oneself.

None of these are qualities much valued by nationalists, populists or the far right, so to defend democracy is also to oppose fascism. It is commonplace that totalitarian régimes severely censor the work of artists, and often the first act of a dictator is to suppress art and culture – savagely expressed by Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels, who notoriously said “when I hear the word culture, I reach for my gun.”

So even its opponents concede that art and culture are potent weapons in support of democracy; empowering artists to deploy them effectively is therefore a vital strategy. Artistic creation can also itself be a democratic process, with individuals and communities contributing to, and having some influence over, artistic practice and the work produced. Furthermore, it demonstrates that there is nothing to fear from difference in a plural society; rather, the mix of cultures can give pleasure, enhance well-being and enrich our lives.

Artists thus have the power to confront the strident voices of bigotry and intolerance unleashed by Brexit to subvert our democratic decision-making; indeed – particularly in these dark times – I believe they have an obligation to so. But artists cannot work alone: they need the committed support of equally enlightened and imaginative promoters, funders, journalists and broadcasters.

In other words, we need to reverse the polarity of much current discourse, and assert the positive value of what migrants, for example, have brought to British society over our entire history, and not least in this century. If empathy is the key to effective democracy, one of the best ways to stimulate and develop empathy is through the medium of culture – by encouraging people to appreciate and share each other’s social and spiritual values.

This of course lies at the heart of my music for the Grand Union Orchestra – and indeed all the Orchestra’s workshop and participation projects – for over 30 years. But you don’t need to meet bigotry with insult, or intolerance with anger; remember the need for empathy: there are more subtle ways of encouraging change, as this piece from our second CD Freedom Calls suggests…

Silence is Consent

The mood of the music is quite deliberately at odds with the meaning of the lyrics. It’s a technique that I’ve favoured often – a version of Brecht’s ‘alienation effect’, perhaps, and therefore not surprisingly characteristic of a lot of Kurt Weill’s music. Rather than reflect directly the stridency and shoutiness of the words, I thought it would be more effective to make the song deceptively romantic, almost a lullaby; that way, what the words are actually saying comes out more starkly against the soft textures, and throws their ‘message’ into greater relief.

There is another Brechtian influence at work here too: authenticity, or the importance of the performer’s own experience. It’s particularly moving that the singers include Chilean exile Vladimir Vega (also playing panpipes in the introduction) who spent over ten years in prison under Pinochet; Josefina Cupido, whose father fought in the Spanish Civil War; and Tunukwa who was active in the civil rights movement in the USA.

Here is the first verse, sung unaccompanied:

SiC-1

To compound the dream-like effect, the introduction (the first minute or so) is very spacy and almost lush, led by panpipes (played, poignantly. by Vladimir Vega – see also Post 26 and Post 11 for more details) over bells, vibraphone and lyrical bass guitar (the great and much lamented Keith Morris). This is based freely on an A minor (Dorian mode) scale and the simple Am-D chord changes which open the song. Then the voice comes in, with trombone obbligato (Rick Taylor, see Post 68); here is the complete second verse (sung by Josefina) and chorus:

SiC-2a

SiC-2b

The harmony is unusual but simple, providing a basis for the contrapuntal textures. The chorus is distinguished by the intertwining women’s voices, sustained chords in brass and wind, and especially the unusual addition of steel pans to the mix. A solo flute (which you can just hear playing a simple swaying figure against the voice in both verses) plays a short link into the third and final verse (sung by Vladimir), a little sparer and more direct with the addition of a tolling bell:

SiC-3

These audio excerpts are taken from the Grand Union Orchestra CD Freedom Calls.

Here are links to two other posts, with impressive videos, that follow the same principles and express similar sentiments:

Post 54: The Battle of Cable Streethttp://wp.me/p1EvPu-Jf

Post 66: Music that Reunites https://wp.me/p1EvPu-Uk

and on a more upbeat note, from Post 45:

Finally, of course, as usual ‘Shakespeare had a word for it’:

“The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils;
Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.”
                                        (The Merchant of Venice)

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