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Ignorance is bliss

Posted Oct 07 2012 5:45am

A couple of weeks ago, I made a short-notice trip to London to do some training. I asked my friend Jude – coiner of the phrase Bah! to cancer – I could stay over; she said yes, of course, and why not come to the concert she was going to that night. It would, she said, be ‘really beautiful singing’. So I bought a ticket and I met her at the venue, and I took my seat for ‘The Earth Resounds’, part of The Sixteen’s Choral Pilgrimage, knowing precisely as much about it as you know from reading that sentence.

The programme didn’t help me out much. Josquin, Brumel and Lassus were names I didn’t know. But I was tired and feeling a bit overcome by life and so I thought, well, if nothing else I get to sit here quietly for a couple of hours and when the concert is over I will, hopefully, be capable of having a non-whiny conversation.

Within three minutes of the concert beginning I was captivated. I am always deeply impressed by any kind of singing, because I can’t hold a tune myself; but this was something else. I thought about how the people of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries must have felt, listening to such music in their churches and cathedrals: how the sound must have seemed like the very voice of God. But soon I was thinking about nothing at all; I was nothing but a great listening, absorbing the music.

On my way down to the bar at the interval, I walked past a conversation about Flemish and Dutch styles of music. Jude and another friend, who are both very musical, were discussing conducting styles. And I thought, I’m glad I know nothing about this. I’m glad I have no ability to judge or consider this music in any context other than the context in which I’m experiencing it: tired, a little sad, music written hundreds of years ago telling me: remember, there was beauty, there is beauty, there will be beauty.

I’m not arguing for deliberate ignorance here; I’m sure that the people who knew abut the music enjoyed it just as much as I did. But for me, just then, ignorance was complete and utter bliss.

(There’s a CD of the music performed at the concert here ; you can find out more about The Sixteen here .)

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