Management trainee

Why would anyone not want to sit at the front of the top deck of the bus? Some might not manage the stairs, or dislike the leg room and amplified shaking: but the View! It’s Wonderful! If anyone feel too sophisticated, or want to blend into the crowd, that is their loss.

I noticed the young blond woman’s phone call. I want to tell you about it, but I can’t, because I’m on the bus. No, I’m on the bus. I don’t want people hearing. I’m On the Bus-

I will be with you at least three hours as if pleasure in company was to be measured in time, not intensity, and as if one measured out such obligations. I owe you a birthday present, it’s this leopard top, it fits me really well and would fit you too… no, I wear it over a vest and it looks really good…

College was really good for me… That was the point when she began to seem artificial to me. It is not necessarily untrue, but it seemed a stock phrase, the kind of thing one would say, and it might cover any number of resentments and unacted desires.

Unusually, it was she who started the conversation. She noticed a toy car and xylophone dumped by the side of the road, and remarked on it to me, and we agreed that it was wrong to use the verge as a litter bin. It was one of those xylophones with different colours for each note. “I had one of those,” I said.

This moved the conversation from what every good person disapproves of- a safe conversation- onto Music. Fortunately, there are platitudes which everyone can agree on for this subject.

-Without music there would be no singing and no dancing, she says.

-Music relaxes you after a stressful day, she says.

I tell of that woman at Greenbelt, and how I loved her performance and how my emotions resonated with it. She tells of a Chinese child, she thinks seven years old, who played the piano wonderfully on The X Factor, even blindfolded.

-You were thinking of what you just said to me, weren’t you? This is perceptive of her.

She says, weird is good. Weird is Wonderful. “If someone calls you weird, say thank you, and if they ask why you said thank you say ‘because you just called me wonderful’.”

That does not quite work. One can be weird in a bad way, and if it is a stock phrase which she trots out on particular occasions, shorter would be more elegant. She may be too young to get “Search for the weirdo inside yourself” as an M People reference.

We get off the bus.
-It was lovely talking to you. And- [twinkle] I’ll be listening to more music.

I don’t think she expressed any authentic feeling at all, but that last sentence just felt completely clunky, a technique of referring to what she had gained from our encounter needing a great deal of practice. Though I can see that if mastered, it would be a good technique to win people over. As she leaves I notice from her fleece that she is a Tesco management trainee.

Aphrodite Anadyomene at Pompeii, in Encaustic by Apelles

Music appreciation

Is classical music better than popular music?

Bach’s cello suites were almost forgotten when the teenage Pablo Casals found the score in a second hand music shop in the 1880s. I heard them as a teenager, when my father played a recording: I could not bear to listen to them. The repeating patterns put me into confused boredom. I begged him to turn it off, and he refused: he inculcated in me the idea that high culture might not be immediately accessible, but was worth the effort of engaging, and because of his effort I enjoy the Bartok string quartets. Who could not, after similar effort to understand their ways of communicating? Their range of emotion and animal energy is mesmerising.

It took a genius to recognise and communicate the wonder of those cello suites, and now millions know them. Here is Yo Yo Ma at the Proms- I paused the concert to write this post. Learning the Sonata in C Minor (Pathétique) was worth the time, more than a month, that it took me, and playing it in my teens helped me access emotional states I could access no other way. I cannot play it now.

This is a class issue. I am cultured and educated, and I like Opera, Greek tragedy, and classical music. I met a woman in the railway station waiting room who was going to the Duran Duran reunion concert. She had been to the opera, and enjoyed it, but felt more comfortable with Duran Duran. I loved the City of London Chamber Orchestra concert, it was in no sense me doing the conventional thing, and I needed to pay attention. It involved effort.

The only full set I heard at Greenbelt was Kiran Ahluwalia. The programme reinforces that this is Culture: rooted in Sufi mysticism, transcending her training in traditional ghazal. What I saw was a glorious stage presence supported by technically skilled yet mostly self-effacing musicians. She was utterly girly-feminine singing of ankle-bells- you must walk with modesty, or you will get envious glances and condemning remarks- dancing round the stage, communicating her delight instantly to me. There was a long Tabla solo, which I am sure connoisseurs would appreciate, though I only noticed it was fast. I loved her.

For so long I have held myself apart, and one of the ways we as a family held ourselves apart was a strong active disapproval of popular music, which has reduced my enjoyment and inhibited my communicating with other people. Better to see the value in it. Like this:

That was the song which showed me that a pop song could be made around one brilliant line- who is she, what is her situation? Does she delude herself?- and a great deal of padding. Now, I could expatiate on the contrast between the rigid structure of the beat, simple harmony, bubble-gum pop vocal style, and the yearning in it. Very British to have emotion so held. Yet I do not need much, this week, to move me to tears.

Bouguereau, the Birth of Venus

Blogging IV

Is classical music in any way “better” than popular music?

I have been thinking about this, and could produce five hundred words on my understanding of class-based and cultural answers to that question, my own experience and my changing answer to that question over the last forty-two years, and my current view.

Instead, I am asking you.