Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Liberated by music

Tell  me, how is it that music has the ability to make its way straight to the heart?
How can a subtle combination of notes and instruments touch us so deeply?
Not only that, how can music liberate our spirits in the way it does?

Can you answer those questions?  I can't.
What I can do is to share a moving story that was featured recently in the Radio 4 series, 'Soul Music'.

At the start of the Second World War, a group of six hundred women and children were evacuated by ship from Singapore.  Their plan was to return home to the UK, but the escape was doomed to failure.  Shortly after setting sail, the ship was captured by the Japanese and all its passengers transferred to a prison camp.  Here they were interred for the duration.

How to maintain courage and hope under such conditions?
With nothing to entertain their children, and little energy to expend, the imprisoned mothers decided to sing.
They sang each day . . . they sang all the songs they could remember.  But the stock of songs ran out . . . and little sense of achievement was gained by constantly repeating those they knew.

It was then that one of the mothers, a professional musician, had an inspired idea.  They might have no instruments in the camp, but they did have their voices.  What if she could create a vocal orchestra, an orchestra that could give voice to classical music?

The music she chose to launch her experiment was the Largo from Dvorak's 'New World Symphony'.
The decision made, it was then a question of creating her 'instruments'.

After studying the voices of her fellow prisoners, the musician selected those she thought most suitable to be her stringed instruments, her woodwind, her brass and her percussion.
Eager to participate, the women and older children carefully absorbed the scores she prepared for them.
Were they to be clarinets . . . or violas . . . of even french horns?  Would they be needed to sing . . or hum . . . or even, perhaps, whistle?

It was two years since any of them had heard live music when, after much study and practice, the prisoners felt ready to give their first performance.
As the camp authorities banned any gathering of large groups, the 'orchestra', whom starvation had rendered too weak to stand, sat on upturned wooden boxes in front of their huts.  Here, under the guidance of their inspired arranger and conductor, they hummed, whistled and sang their way through a unique rendition of Dvorak's famous symphony.

As one of the participants was to say many years later:
"We were captive, but the music was free . . . it gave us freedom.

Do you see what I mean about the liberating power of music?

In tribute to those courageous women, let's conclude by listening to the orchestral version of that famous Largo.

As we listen, just ask yourself the question:
"What might I be?  Am I a violin . . . an oboe . . . or even a trumpet?"
Then . . . why not join in . . . ?