Friday, May 29, 2015

Listen to the sea . . .

I had an interesting experience the other day . . . it's one that I hope you'll share with me.
But first, let me explain.

It all happened when a friend phoned.  She, it appeared, was sitting on the shore beside the North Sea.

"It's wonderful here," she enthused, "just listen to the sea . . . " with which she placed her phone close to the water's edge.
I listened . . . and, if you click here, you can listen too.

I don't know what you felt, but I was totally gripped by the power of that sound . . . the relentless energy of the surging waves was mesmerising.

Wouldn't you agree that, when it comes to our senses, we're inclined to give priority to things visual.
Had I been sitting beside my friend on the shore, I suspect it would have been the splendour of the coastline that would have dominated my attention.  Yes, I'd have been conscious of the sounds around me, but only as a background to the visual feast.

However, listening down the phone to the water's rhythmic pounding, it was the power of the sound itself that held me transfixed.

And it made me think . . . it made me think of natural power.
Of the power of the tide, a surge of energy so strong that it literally lifts oceans . . . and water is heavy.

Of the power of the wind . . . a force that, if so inclined, can unheedingly bring massive structures crashing to the ground.

And we need to remember that the tide isn't the water breaking over the shingle, it's the invisible energy moving that water.  And the wind isn't the air howling in the chimney, it's the invisible energy moving that air.

Meteorologists can track these natural forces, but not control them.
The only way we know of their existence is by the effect they have.

Summoned by the magnetic energy of the moon, the water surges up the beach.
Powerless in the face of an invisible rush of energy that transforms air into wind, umbrellas are blown inside-out.

It's an energy that man couldn't possibly reproduce or quench . . . yet, except in extreme conditions, such as tsunamis or tornados, how little thought we give to its presence.

Click here, listen to the wind, and see what I mean.

But, wait a moment.
Don't we, too, consist of water and of air?

Haven't we all felt the power that the full moon exerts on the water  in our bodies?
Haven't we experienced in our lungs the energy-charged air that has blown through the trees and in at the window?

As I listened on the phone to the North Sea tide surging over the pebbles, I was tuning in to the source of universal energy . . .  to the energy that unites everything in creation.
No wonder I can't forget it.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Give music a chance . . .

In a world starved of positivity, may I share some good news?
It's a story about music.   So, as music was Shakespeare's 'food of love', we couldn't have a better form of nourishment.

Everyone is familiar with Oxfam, Medecins sans Frontieres and the Red Cross . . . three admirable organisations that bring sustenance, healing and hope to war-ravaged countries.

But I rather doubt whether you've heard of the Brussels-based charity,  Music Fund.
Launched in 2005, it's a humanitarian project with the unlikely but wholly commendable aim of supporting musicians, and music schools, in areas of conflict and deprivation.

Music Fund came to prominence the other week in an enterprise supported and financed by the conductor and pianist, Daniel Barenboim.  It was called upon to restore a Yamaha grand piano in war-ravaged Gaza.

A Yamaha grand piano in Gaza?
Yes, I agree . . . it's hardly what you'd expect.
But surely no strip of land could be in greater need of 'the food of love'?

Whilst the Nawras Theatre, where the piano had been housed, was badly damaged in the recent conflict (as you can see in this photo), the piano was an unlikely survivor.

Daniel Barenboim and Music Fund were determined that it should once again bring pleasure to the people of Gaza.  To this end, hours of painstaking, loving work have been devoted to its restoration . . .  every string, hammer and felt has been replaced.

From Music Fund I was fascinated to learn that no two pianos are identical . . . they each have their own highly-individual song to sing, their own 'soul'.
Each time a pianist and a piano come together to produce music, it's to manifest something that's never been heard before . . . something that it would be impossible to repeat.

'Give music a chance . . .' pleads Music Fund on the side of its buses.  But surely this plea should not be restricted to areas of conflict and deprivation?
We all need the healing, unifying power of music.

For Shakespeare, music was the food of love.
For Delius, it was an outburst of the soul.

Whilst for the American author, Hunter S. Thompson, it was simply a form of 'fuel'.
When his car ran low on petrol he would turn up the volume on the car radio, secure in the conviction that musical fuel would carry him home.
I wonder whether he ever watched this video.

It's impossible to over-estimate the power of music . . . the vibrational power of sound.
On a commercial level, did you know that music can have a decisive effect on what you buy in a shop . . . or that soothing music is often used by dairy farmers to increase their milk yield?

But, if we're truly to give music a chance, we need to experience its power for ourselves.

Have you a few minutes to spare?
Then may I suggest you click here.
Let your body, mind and spirit be transformed by the combined magic of Beethoven,  Daniel Barenboim . . and a piano!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Who's for conkers . . . ?

Did you know that conkers are an endangered species?   No, not in the literal sense . . . let me explain.

Our brains, it seems, don't offer us precisely what our ears and eyes are recording.  On the contrary, what we receive is a carefully edited version based on past experience.  To a large extent, our brains place before us the sights and sounds that we already know, ones that we can recognise and name . . . the name being of prime importance.

To give you an example, an Inuit, who has many names for what we call 'snow', would look out of his igloo at a complex and interesting landscape.  In the same situation, the limitations of our language would restrict us to seeing little more than a stretch of endless, monotonous white.

Why am I mentioning this?  Because of a challenging and absorbing new book by Robert Macfarlane.  It's entitled 'Landmarks', and in it the author laments the fact that a recent edition of 'The Oxford Junior Dictionary' chose to omit many words included in previous editions.

Amongst the words excluded were 'conker', 'acorn', 'kingfisher', 'dandelion', 'bluebell' and 'pasture'.  The reason for these omissions?  Because it was felt that the dictionary needed to include a plethora of new words such as 'blog', 'broadband', 'celebrity' and 'voice-mail'.

It was the editor's view that, as the majority of modern children live in urban areas, they didn't need many of the nouns that relate specifically to the countryside.  However, it was essential that they were familiar with the terminology of modern information technology.

A world without conkers or acorns?  Surely not!
Familiarity with these evocative names enables us to look beneath the trees and immediately identify the natural treasures nestling in the leaves.
Without those names we'd be gazing down at a featureless forest floor . . . something that our brains would probably choose to ignore.  'Language deficit,' writes Robert Macfarlane, 'leads to attention deficit'.

As for the 'dandelion' which was jettisoned to make way for the 'celebrity' . . . true, a city child mightn't be able to hold one in her hand, but which celebrity could possibly rival the dandelion's dramatic transition from golden glory to parachuting seed-head?

And, think about it for a moment, without an identifiable name to seize upon, wouldn't the brain consider the flower to be merely part of the meadow and filter it out of sight?
There again, if the word 'meadow' has gone the way of 'pasture', the brain would probably dismiss the whole thing as no more than a featureless, unimportant, green blur.

Surely children need to be offered a wide-ranging, not reduced, view of the world they inhabit?
Might I suggest that 'The Oxford Junior Dictionary'  is overlooking two very important facts . . . the need to root the technological wonders of the modern world into the natural world they stem from, and the need for children's lives to be rooted in that same nourishing soil.

What a bland countryside we're bequeathing to our descendants.  No hillocks, no dales . . . no tussocks, no mole-hills.
The inevitable outcome will be no grandeur, no splendour . . . just stultifying, mind-numbing uniformity.

Is this how we want to be remembered:  the generation who encouraged children to become addicted to smartphones whilst depriving them of conkers . . . ?
Surely not!

In addition to which, as any child will tell you, a conker is far smarter than a smartphone.
Not only is it capable of self-propogation, but it runs on nothing but water and solar power!