The Plague-Ground – THERE AIN’T NO MUSIC UNLESS THE WORDS SING.

Raise your hand if you don’t like music.

Good. Not one person raised their hand.

It’s amazing that 100% of us can agree on one single thing these days (even staying away from each other, as these darkly funny appeals from Italian mayors attest).

Few art-lovers claim art is the universal language. Or dance-lovers, dance. Or literature, books. Or drama, plays, though those art forms have caught and held our breaths for centuries. That’s because the one universal language is music.

And if ever there was a time to enlist the power of music to anchor our memories and steel us for the days ahead, it’s the language shared by all 9 billion of us.

For you, it may be Kenny Rogers, or fifes and drums, or Belgian lutenists.

Whatever makes your heart thrum.

In fact, now may be the time to explore music you never had time for, or want to give a second chance. For me, that’s Blues and Philip Glass.

It’s certainly time to go deep with the music you already love, the tunes that grew into anthems as you grew up. I remember when my father was dying, we played Beethoven’s 7th Symphony beside his hospital bed. Those were the last sounds he heard. When I hear it today, half a century later, I tear up. Impossible not to.

The greatest gift my dad passed on to me was his love of classical music. He thrust flute lessons at me when I could barely lift a flute. He forced me to go to concerts by the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. Yech!

But that early training opened a world to me that grows larger as I grow older.

So it’s no surprise that I’m clicking eagerly on the many sites of soloists and choirs and orchestras all trying to do virtually what their profession has taught them to perform live.

Some of them are more earnest than expert. They  remind me of Winston Churchill’s review of  a performance by a dancing bear: “It’s not that he does it well; it’s that he does it at all.”

On the other hand, there are some stellar new ways individual musicians are using technology to appear en masse.

Here’s Italy’s International Opera Choir singing “Va Pensiero” from Giuseppi Verdi’s Nabucco. Yes, you do know this tune.

Now, here are members of the Rotterdam Philharmonic playing the Ode to Joy, the final movement from Beethoven’s 9th – from their bedrooms.  You know this one too.

The best example is closest to home. This week, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra came together to perform Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring in a way the world has never seen. Yes, yes, yes.

But the final word on what music means in times of crisis belongs to the conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra who doubles as the Director of the Metropolitan Opera.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin was interviewed on NPR by Terry Gross last week after they performed Beethoven’s 5th and 6th to an empty concert hall.

He was at home with his family in Montreal where he is still the music director of the Orchestre Métropolitain. His interview starts at 31:56, and in it he said this: “Musicians are communicators, that’s why we do this. Some of us are very lonely when we practice our instruments. But all of this is to share.”

“The opportunity to connect with our audience in such a moment of shock, with the music of Beethoven, and his 5th Symphony, is the representation of humankind overcoming its own destiny.”

Amen to that.

38 replies
  1. Eric Friesen says:

    I love these daily thoughts, Bob, and of course you know I share with you the conviction that music is the most powerful consolation right now. It is an emotional language – everything right now has to make emotional sense, and music does, and your words also I am pleased to say. there is nothing of course that takes the place of the live, in-concert experience, but we will have to live on our memories right now and be grateful for the innovative ways musicians are reaching out to continue communicating this inestimable gift of the art.

    Reply
    • Bob Ramsay
      Bob Ramsay says:

      Eric — Indeed, we WILL have to live on our memories for now, and it’s astonishing how many of us are already marshalling our second language of music to do that. Thanks for checking in. Cheers. Bob

      Reply
  2. Terry Dingle says:

    Thanks Bob, we are very much enjoying your Writes……..please keep them coming, …..yes, the Internet , music, books, family , friends, communicating + food & the grape etc…..are our life blood , during this pandemic ……Stay well, ❤️ Terry Dingle

    Reply
  3. Wendy Walters says:

    Amen to that! I listened to the entire Woodstock album while making dinner. My kids never hear me sing! They do now😉. Thanks for this beautiful reminder and for the links. Can’t wait to explore. Here’s to the Quarantine Quartet.

    Reply
  4. Wendy Walters says:

    Love this. My family looks at me funny while I’m singing but, hey, the heart of a singer must be set free😂. Here’s to new voices in the kitchen.

    Reply
  5. Marilyn Field says:

    How great that your dad forced you to attend classical music concerts! The more we learn, the more we understand and find a deeper joy and connection with others. Marilyn Field, MSM

    Reply
    • Bob Ramsay
      Bob Ramsay says:

      Indeed, Marilyn, lots of us were ‘forced’ into classical music by our parents. Thank Heavens we were, is all I can say.

      Reply
  6. Louise Levitt says:

    If music be the food for love, play on.
    Bob, you hit the nail on the head: yesterday I listened to all of Beethovan’s symphonies and then 5 recordings of Miles Davis. When I read about the TSO and Appalachian Spring I wept- with the idea of it! What could be more uplifting at a time like this, than the likes of Joni Mitchell, Puccini (Danuke does La Boheme on CBC Gem), Bernstein, Keith Jarrett and his Cologne Concerts, Ravi Shankar and the LSO – name your favorites.
    I appreciate you drawing music to our centre during this dark time.

    Reply
    • Bob Ramsay
      Bob Ramsay says:

      Louise: It’s a salvation that ALL of us have a library of music in our memories we can use technology to call on these days.
      Let mne see if I can call up Beethoven’s symphonies the way you did. Cheers. Bob

      Reply
  7. Christine says:

    Wonderful read, fantastic Churchill quote.
    I’m signing into work now, will look forward to listening to the music later today.
    Thank you!

    Reply
  8. Sandra Pierce says:

    Bob – once again you have made my day!! Thank you for such great links to great music.
    Your story about your dad reminded me of my BFF who was dying of AIDS in 1991 at The Toronto General Hospital. As he lay there – incapable of talking or even moving- I played the music of the classical performers we had seen together at Roy Thomson Hall — our mutual favourite was Kathleen Battle. We shared a mutual love of DIVAS!
    I hadn’t thought of that time for a long while until I read your piece. Thank you for resurrecting a memory that had long been buried.

    Reply
  9. John R McIsaac says:

    Lest we not forget Procol Harum’s orchestral version of “Whiter Shade of Pale” with the ESO back sometime in the 60s.

    Reply
    • Bob Ramsay
      Bob Ramsay says:

      Indeed, John, I think I still have that album buried deep in a trunk somewhere….it made the ESO world-famous — for a bit!

      Reply
  10. Madeline Thompson says:

    What a lovely idea, this music post. Some of the pieces wouldn’t click on, but some did – Appalachian Spring for one, wonderful to hear again – and love Nezet-Seguin’s thoughts. And that your father exited this world on the wings of Beethoven’s 7th, may we all be so fortunate! Really enjoy these posts. Chiang Mai is now in shutdown but not yet lockdown. Hopefully that won’t happen. We shall see – every day is an adventure!

    Reply
  11. Kathy says:

    Lovely piece, Bob. I’ve started to play the piano again. I sound awful, but with practice, who knows? Just the discipline of practicing and playing helps to calm and distract from all around me. Keep the posts coming!

    Reply
  12. Robin Lecky says:

    Love the music – all recorded in isolation. Passed the links along to family and friends and got heartening, happy feedback.
    Thanks, Bob … and more of it when you find these wonderful goodies.

    Reply
  13. Fern Bayer says:

    Dear Bob:

    So wonderful … and VIVA L’ITALIA et all of us EVERYWHERE.

    Thanks for these moments of joy …

    Cheers,

    Fern

    Reply
  14. Sarah P Hastie says:

    Thanks Bob; you say what I feel so much better than I could! When the nurses association asked us all to make a noise from our window, balcony, deck, or porch at 7:30 every evening, I immediately thought of music and took out my Bluetooth speaker on full blast. I am sharing different tunes every night as a shout out to the entire healthcare community as well as other first responders and essential workers. You’re right, music is universal. Keep well Bob and Jean.

    Reply
  15. Kirsten Chase says:

    Bob – Yes, yes, yes. Music enriches the soul and we need this right now. Here’s our 11 year old Connor playing and singing his raw & uncut ‘in my room’ series – which he’s built to sustain himself and others through this surreal time… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibhc3MyBig4 (week 2 confinement) and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZVfVqhKU4M (week 1 confinement). Kids are so amazingly resilient and flexible. We can learn so much from them.

    Reply
  16. Angela Johnson says:

    Bob, Truly enjoying your daily posts! Ode to Joy such a wonderful piece and their performance is one I’ll never forget. Looking forward to tomorrow’s post :).

    Reply

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