When I see Belfast on the television news, plagued by disputes about the flying of flags or the sporadic violence that erupts in the streets, while Dublin grapples with problems of the Euro and the unimaginable numbers that represent the nation’s debt, I think of you in old Ireland, and smile to myself, knowing how unaffected you are by the antics of politicians and financiers, and that you are always at ease in the certain knowledge that with the help of music we can save every day, and fend off every disaster.
I have envied your calm and resolve in the face of these matters for years. This morning, therefore, I resolved to ignore the coalition’s minister of culture and the depressing and disingenuous content of her recent speech on the relationship of the funding of the arts to the economy, and to give my full attention and adoration to this glorious day!
The world is born again, and as I watch the wind whipping the white horses across to Fife in the sunshine, the seabirds fill the skies with their cries of joy, and the Firth of Forth stretches open mouthed and amazed across to the open sea.
The grandeur of nature astounds me, and this bright spring weather after a long wet summer and a cold winter is such a joy, but try as I might, thoughts of the asinine artlessness of the minister for culture drag me away from this beautiful morning and back to the past. How many such experiences have we known?
Politicians, concerned continually for their media image and anxious to avoid exposure to real truths that are superfluous to statistics, become lost in their obfuscations, chicanery and feasibility studies, and are simply baffled when they come across serious matters that concern the role of music, or art of any kind in the community of the normal and everyday. And they clutch desperately at the term, “market forces” like a disturbed child cowering in the corner with a broken toy.
We, who REALLY answer to the public and make our living providing the arts to the people, know that they are precious gifts to the senses that are indivisible from life itself. A brass band or a youth orchestra could be a gift to a young boy that could save him from the misery of the dole, and the evident and ancient power of music has relieved the immense pain and personal loss that has been caused by politicians in the darkest days the world has ever seen.
Our monumental “Pathetique” symphony with Kempe in 1972 at the Festival Hall was a performance that those who were present have never forgotten. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on that day, acclaimed as it was throughout Europe and America, stood destitute and ostracized in its own land, at the edge of oblivion, the politicians and critics baying for its blood and the press loitering at the stage door before searching the pubs and gutters for our casualties. There was no post performance conversation or bonhomie that night, only sighs of relief, zips and breathlessness but with that concert and the intensity of the performance, the orchestra had asked a poignant question.
“Our tormentors demanded songs of joy. – How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”
Perhaps you will remember those words that you spoke that brought us all back to reality and the masculine malodour of that dressing room.
I have never forgotten them.
Our land and the behaviour of its representatives seems as strange as ever it was to those of us that just want to make music and enough money with which to do it.
I know you will remember the tone the critics took on the day after that concert, when even the nastiest of them was forced to relent with a condescending nod to our “virtuosity”, and to put aside the instruments of torture for a day, before normal malice was resumed, and we were once more thrown at the familiar mercy of the Arts council and the Treasury.
We were, of course, exactly where we were meant to be, where we always had been, and where we are today.
I shall now follow your example while the day is still rejoicing, and the television screen stares blankly at the wall!
“O men it must ever be
That we dwell, in our dreaming and singing,
A little apart from ye.”