06 July 2009

Imagine the Sound of One World

What is the music of your travels? What is the music of your heart?

As many people are mourning Michael Jackson, whose music never much appealed to me, I am reminded that the lyrics of his song Billy Jean confused me on my first independent explorations of the world. I associated the name of the song with a well-known tennis player.

My memory of the song is also linked to my time in Amsterdam, in 1983, where I went to a disco for the first time. I was with a group of people and we had just enjoyed an elaborate Indonesian rijsttafel banquet in a floating restaurant on one of the city's canals.

So there I was, a young English girl, listening to American pop music in a disco in the Netherlands after eating an Indonesian meal. The people in my group included an Indian, a Brazilian, a Canadian, a few Australians, some people from Hong Kong, some from Malaysia, and a tour guide from the United States.

The sound of (reflective) music

 I have never been much into nightclubs and do not even really enjoy being out after dark. I like it to be daylight when I listen to music. I like silence and a good book at night.

When I was a child, I liked The Sun Has Got His Hat On Hip Hip Hip Hooray. I found that uplifting when the sun peaked out from behind a cloud after so many grey and dreary school days.

I liked Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and The Teddy Bears' Picnic in early childhood. Now I lift my spirits by singing Chick Chick Chick Chick Chicken Lay A Little Egg for Me, based on the original 1920s recording.

Via the non-diva performs in opera houses

I can honestly say that I have sung at several of the world's most famous opera houses.  That is because I have made a habit of singing the chicken song quietly in the foyer whenever I have the opportunity to enter such a place.  I am sure anyone nearby must have thought me mad rather than musical.

In one of my earlier posts in this blog, I mentioned Mahler and Debussy (neither of whom wrote the chicken song). I am yet to mentioned much about the other composers who populate my blogger profile page.  Do we enjoy some of the same music now?

Sound in memories and imagination

The title of this blog post might make you think of a more recent composer, John Lennon, whose song Imagine is one of those reflective ones that have appealed to me in the past.  Unlike most pop songs it is not catchy enough to become rapidly annoying, unless played in an overly sentimental setting.

When I was in my late teens, I would borrow records from an aunt of mine. She is an artist and was a member of a folk club for most of the 1960s. I found it interesting to listen to the music on her records that I did not hear on the radio in my youth.

I think I might have heard her records in my early childhood as I developed a special attachment to two Donovan songs: Ballad of a Crystal Man and Sunny Goodge Street.

Ballad of a Crystal Man was, I think, in a film I remember seeing in my childhood. It was Brother Sun, Sister Moon about Francis of Assisi. It was directed by Franco Zeffirelli. Today it is easy to learn more about our own past cultural experiences, just by exploring online.

The sounds of innocence (and experience)

In the innocence of my youth, I would never have thought that some of Donovan's songs contained drug references, as in Sunny Goodge Street. In London in the mid 1980s, I worked at Channel Four Television, which was then based in Charlotte Street in the West End. Every day I would travel from Clapham Common to Goodge Street Tube Station. I remembered the tune but did not understand the lyrics.

When I was growing up, my father played blues guitar. The song he sang most was The House of The Rising Sun. No-one in my family had been to New Orleans. My father had a friend who played the banjo. His most frequent song was One Meat Ball Without the Gravy.

A voice (unimagined and/or unimaginable)

Do you sing? Although I sing the chicken song when I am in silly mood or in an opera house, I often attempt to sing opera arias in the shower and sometimes also while washing the dishes (in the kitchen not in the shower).

Perhaps my limited vocal talent is one of the reasons why my husband, the angel one, often does the washing up at weekends. He does not sing, except with a microphone as a backing vocalist.

I am married to an ex-rock drummer. He trained in classical and jazz percussion and began playing in bands semi-professionally at the age of 17. Fortunately, he was wise enough not to give up his day job. The angel one has never smoked cigarettes or used other drugs. He is not much into alcohol, either, except for a small glass of red wine with a plate of pasta.

He played in half a dozen bands in his teens and twenties. More recently, he played in a blues band (on backing vocals as well as drums) but left as he had concerns - as he did in previous bands - about the mental state and unhealthy activities of several of the other members.

Why do so many musicians harm themselves through substance abuse?

Compatible tastes

The angel one's taste in music is now, fortunately, similar to mine. In his youth, he was a fan of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, John McLaughlin, Miles Davis, Ravi Shankar, Billy Cobham, Charles Mingus, Jimmy Hendrix, Jeff Beck and other album artists. I can tolerate small doses of virtuosic electric or percussion music, as long as the volume is not too loud and it is early in the evening.

Songs I occasionally attempt to sing include Pace pace mio Dio from Verdi's La Forza del Destino, though I prefer the 1956 recording by Leyla Gencer. I also try Vissi d'arte from Puccini's Tosca, but that is probably best left to Maria Callas, as is the bolero from Verdi's I Vespri Siciliani, Mercè dilette amiche.

I sometimes attempt the two Queen of the Night arias, O zittre nicht and Der hölle rache, from Mozart's Magic Flute, but I was never meant to be a coloratura soprano.

What do you sing at home? What do you sing when you travel?

Travel tunes

The song that probably inspired me to travel was Mad Dogs and Englishmen by Noel Coward. It was the reason I asked for a globe for Christmas when I was about seven years old. I often had fun turning it to find places that seemed so far away. My parents later bought me the huge Times Atlas of the World. I still have it, too.

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