Unmade Music – 12 May 2020

An iconic, super-minimal version of a song about giving by two of my all-time favourite artists

The social media feeds of us pandemically-despondent musicians, choristers and music-lovers of all kinds are awash not just with our ten selected influential record albums and cool virtual incarnations of the music we once made and shared publicly – they are awash too with unmade music.

As seemingly endless similar days and weeks drift by, musicians facing boredom, financial uncertainty and even crises of identity are posting ennui-, angst-, and even rage-filled notices of the concerts, tours, services that ‘would have been.’ For me, as optimistically postponed or resignedly cancelled freelance dates slip into propositional history and my institutions grapple with a future nearly impossible to plan, the four choirs that surround and in many ways define my creative life seem to sink only further into limbo as longer-term worries about singing and contagion spread almost more quickly than COVID-19 itself.

I watch, sometimes inspired by new challenges on the virtual front; sometimes lying awake wondering how and when music will once again fill our churches and concert halls – and wondering, as one artist put it, how much value has a cobbler to a world that doesn’t wear shoes? To add an uglier side to this snapshot of artistic crisis, singer Bryan Adams is currently reaping the unpleasant fruits of a post including a snippet of his song Cuts like a knife nestled in a racist tirade against the Chinese ‘bastards’ he blames for the pandemic that cancelled three shows he would currently have been doing at the Royal Albert Hall.

Unmade music is relatively foreign to those of us who have grown up making it. As I’ve been chatting informally with colleagues, many of us listen to strikingly little music for recreational purposes, even as we endlessly pore over it coveting to play/sing it ourselves, hear others’ interpretations, learn styles and techniques helpful to our own art. Much as I love music, and I’m probably old-fashioned, but the concept of Spotify offering a playlist designed to suit my tastes or still worse capture or enhance my mood is as other-worldly to me as Gwynneth Paltrow promising me new-age health revolutions.

As, by default rather than qualification, media guru to my congregation, it is a strange new thing to synthesise Virtual Services that can, like a radio show, feature anthems my choir doesn’t have to prepare on time (indeed, might never even learn), and organ postludes there is no need for me to re-prepare (or indeed, that I’ll never have to learn at all). My musician’s constant calculus – finding and researching, physically and mentally learning, rehearsing with others, polishing and offering on time and in various venues – is suspended, or in the case of virtual services mostly reduced to combing the Internet for what can be found that is suitable and legal for me to DJ to the faithful. This is not an entirely unpleasant, unstimulating or unsatisfying experience: but it certainly is different.

Among our various depressed, disjointed and terrified outbursts online also dwell thoughts of optimism and resilience: as one colleague recently put it:

My boat is strong and it has no leaks, it just also has no anchor… Or it has a different anchor that I don’t know how to utilize yet.

I made my first-ever trip to give blood yesterday – a tremendous feeling of honest service to my species – and I was struck by the hauntingly familiar (from more musical days) welcome, gratitude and satisfaction I felt offering up this simple gift. To all of you who feel music coursing through your veins as I do, and are uncharacteristically unable to give it at the moment – never forget to give in the ways that you still can, and never forget the connection. To turn, turn, will be our delight ’til by turning, turning, we come round right.

-CD (dedicated to Tina)

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