THE Christian Church - better than that, the Church of England -
lay at the heart of How Music Makes You Feel (BBC1,
Tuesday of last week), one of Alan Yentob's "Imagine" series of
personal explorations. The hook on which it hung was the phenomenon
encountered in a previous programme, when he underwent a brain scan
while listening to Strauss's Four Last Songs. The
consultant was amazed by the result: the whole brain recorded
neural activity, almost overloading the machine.
Music clearly reaches the parts other sensations cannot reach,
and the film sought to discover why that should be so. Generously,
while also exploring the effect of disco music, Yentob volunteered
that a place where people still regularly experienced the power of
sharing in music was in church worship, and chose the Revd Lucy
Winkett and her church - St James's, Piccadilly - to
As a trained musician, Ms Winkett has that rare quality of
knowing what she is talking about. She directed attention to
another location where the phenomenon was still enjoyed - the
The Kop, at Anfield, was recorded singing "You'll never walk
alone" with a fervour that is rarely encountered at Sunday evensong
- but this did flag up a weakness in the programme. Singing, and
music generally, does not just engage our feelings: good music
excites the intellect, enlarges the gates of perception, and
envelops us in overwhelming emotion. I have been pondering this
mystery - I have been exposed recently to the kind of church music
that I normally avoid, from which every dimension other than
vacuous feeling has been removed - but Yentob's attention focused
mainly on emotions, and what he called "spiritual" experience.
Academics and experts were consulted, and we saw some moving
film of how babies engage with music, and also how those locked
into Alzheimer's can be awakened into dance and song by the power
of music. Overall, this felt more like an illuminating exploration
of the phenomenon than a clear exposition of a thesis explaining
precisely how music exercises its primordial power.
The Church came out less well in The Secret of Crickley
Hall (BBC1, Sunday). Only when it was too late to change their
course did the vicar wake up to the terrible goings-on at the
orphanage. Its deranged owner had taken to heart biblical
injunctions about bringing up a child in the right way, which he
interpreted as a liberal application of the cane, especially on a
refugee child, doubly responsible for his load of sin because,
being Jewish, he was implicated in the death of Jesus.
The psychic echoes of the tragedy were awakened, 60 years later,
by a family who sought to come to terms with the loss of a child.
The atmosphere of ghostly presence lay like a miasma over all, and,
I suppose, as a parable of eventual redemption and closure, the
Lord's day might seem an appropriate place for such a fable; but
the strongest impression was bemused wonderment at how the BBC
could have thought that this was a strong enough novel to deserve
the prized Sunday-evening slot.