Surprisingly unhelpful music


I did promise myself that I wouldn’t write about death or grief.

I promised myself I wouldn’t be superficial.

I would instead be bold, daring and independent. I would challenge convention. I would share something of myself.

After all, people respond to passion (even if they don’t realise it), and passion necessarily comes from the heart.

Here’s the surprising thing that has happened in the few short hours since the death of our delightfully boisterous adorable puss Cromarty: classical music suddenly needs to be kept at arms length.

In fact all music needs to be kept at arms length. It needs to be roped off with warning signs and the like. Music right now is of absolutely no use. It cannot Polyfilla in the gaps. All it can really do is shove you across your otherwise robust emotional borders.

I was running over the things I might consider (or wouldn’t consider) listening to to make sense, soothe, or shape this odd time. I had a long list of music I couldn’t listen to and precious little I wanted to.

Broadly speaking, anything in a major key seems frivolous and bound to provoke guilt; minor keys are likely to amplify the sense of dark emptiness. Avoid the overly romantic like the plague (now would not be the time for the slow movement of Rach 2 for example). The Curtain music from Purcell’s Timon of Athens is a definite no no with its constant oscillation between major and minor. Verklarte Nacht is too bleak. Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No.1 too rich.

Music in these moments then suddenly presents itself like a object in the fast lane of the motorway guaranteed to cause a nasty road traffic accident: something to swerve or risk being floored by.

But what really surprises me is how in an instant like death any requiem mass – Mozart, Britten especially, Verdi (without any doubt), Faure and particularly Rutter – seems wholly unrepresentative of mood, thinking, or need. Suddenly, these works appear as theatrical settings, irrelevant, unhelpful, and overbearing.

I certainly didn’t expect the shell shock or the numbness of grief, even if I anticipated the event that preceded it. There is more coming down the line too. What has surprised is the way the connection with music has suddenly changed. Temporarily, I’m sure.