Do you have a piece of music which evokes a particular feeling for you? I don’t mean that piece that conjures up a special place or time of your life although music can do that too.
Riding trains in Europe on what we now call a gap year, I played Joan Armatrading’s Willow over and over on my Walkman (a 1980s cassette-playing version of an iPod, in case there are any millenials reading).
The repetition was mainly because I only had three cassettes rather than a thousand songs in my pocket, yet now if I hear that song, I immediately picture the checked upholstery of a Deutsche Bahn carriage or that little Italian sign ‘e pericoloso sporgersi’ and I sense the adventure of that time.
But as I said, I don’t exactly mean that kind of evocation. There’s a slightly different one I’m pondering.
Sometimes there’s a song or a piece of music that evokes a mood or a feeling and allows you to experience it so deeply, it feels as though the piece has been designed for that purpose.
I came across a programme about precisely this kind of musical evocation from BBC Radio. In this episode, people from all over the world describe their responses to Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. I especially love the story from the Belgian woman which begins about 16 minutes into the podcast.
Rodrigo’s composition is an example of the power of creativity to allow cathartic soul expression both for its creator and for those who listen to it.
A CD of Rodrigo’s concerto was one of the first I bought in my moody 20s when I was rocked by periods of downheartedness. I haven’t played it for a while. Now I love the wonder evoked by Arvo Part’s Spiegel im spiegel, the melancholy of Mariza’s fado Beijo de Saudade, or perhaps even the triumph of the Hallelujah chorus. I sense tenderness tinged with despair when I hear Ombra mai fu from Xerxes by Handel. And of course, there are songs that just get you walking on sunshine, whoa-oh, as well.
It’s not only music that can capture a mood. Lyric poetry also serves that function, or even what we might call lyric acts or rituals.
Some years ago, I walked just before dawn along Bathers beach in Fremantle. A man with rolled-up trousers stood calf deep in the water.
As the sun rose behind him, he held a plastic bag and kept throwing something from it into the sea. At first I thought he must be hurling bait to attract fish. Then I saw that whatever it was floated on the surface. I was puzzled. Little origami boats perhaps?
The man emptied one bag, folded it carefully and brought it back to a basket on the sand. He retrieved yet another plastic bag, this one bulging, and headed into the shallows again.
As he gently dispersed the contents, and as the light grew, I saw what they were. Camellia blossoms, dozens, no, hundreds of them, floated across the surface of the water. Some were carried in towards the shore and others drifted out past the sheep ships and the tankers into the Indian Ocean. The petals were lit pink and gold in the dawn light.
I didn’t ask him what he was up to, it didn’t seem right to intrude, so I stood 50m away and watched for a long time until he stopped watching too. Then he turned, walked back to the beach, collected his basket and left. Even after he had gone, I stayed as this delicate flotilla washed up on shore or headed out to the ocean. A flotilla in tribute to something; to grief? Love? Hope? I can’t be sure exactly but what I felt was wonder, and a profound sense of soul nourishment.
In life and in our creative activity—what is it that will let us feel deeply what emerges from life events and allow those deepest feelings to become creative acts that nourish ourselves and others. The world needs more of them.