Today was supposed to be the culminaton of CoDI Text. A showcase at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Music and friends and discussion and celebrating collaboration and art. As I sit on a green sofa in my living room, wearing a dressing gown, with a cup of tea and Bernstein’s recording of Shostakovich 5 belting out from a record player, it is clear I have no intention of leaving my house today. Neither do any of the participants on the scheme, composers or performers.
As a composition student I have written a lot of pieces that have never been performed. Usually this is because they were written for fun and without any performance planned. Occasionally planned performances were cancelled due to illness. Postponing indefinitely due to the whole world shutting down is a new one, though.
At times like these we often turn to music for reassurance. After the assassination of JFK Bernstein instructed us to “make music more intensely, more beautifuly, more devotedly than ever before.” Following 9/11 the programme for Last Night of the Proms was altered to include Barber’s Adagio for Strings, selections from Tippett’s A Child of our Time, and the finale of Beethoven 9. More recently, the morning after the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing Joseph Davies began our class with a Beethoven piano sonata and a poignant reminder that there is still beauty and goodness in the world, even in dark times. Today, however, such a response is impossible. Under strict lockdown we cannot make music together. For once, we are alone.
Throughout this scheme I have worked on a poem of Kaite’s simply called ‘If’. My setting sought to obscure as much of the performance as I could, through spatialisation, extremely soft dynamics, and theatrical elements of sorts. My belief was that by keeping the music just out of reach, the audience would desire it more. Well, I suppose I was right. I have never had a stronger desire to hear live music than at right now.
There are undoubtedly thousands of new pieces of music that have had their premieres cancelled in response to this current pandemic. Many of them may never be heard. Add them to the long list of lost art. We can only hope that one day, music begins again.
I’m not entirely sure of the point of this post. Perhaps it is to mourn the loss of so much creativity - having read just this morning of Penderecki’s death, it seems particularly appropriate. Perhaps it is a reminder to be grateful for the music we do have - while I can’t go to Hoddinott Hall right now, Bernstein’s legacy endures in my living room at 33rpm. Perhaps there is a glimmer of hope - I have never seen so many of my friends livestreaming their music-making for those in lockdown to hear. In the face of despair, Bernstein’s instructions still ring true.
With about 8 bars of Shostakovich 5 to go, the automatic arm return on my record player activated. With a jolt I was denied the finale I had been waiting for, that had been built up to for so long. I could hardly have put it better myself.