MUSIC works in mysterious ways. Who would have thought, for
instance, that yodelling might save the soul of an abject sinner?
It would come as no surprise to the gospel singer Wanda Jackson,
whose song "Jesus put a yodel in my soul" is a big hit in the
born-again yodelling community. Nor to Beverly Massegee, a heroin
addict who found Jesus, and now does a cover version of the Jackson
This sub-culture of yodelling for the Lord came to Radio 4
listeners in a similarly mysterious way. The week before last, the
regular Sunday-morning press review on Broadcasting House
was interrupted by a burst of Massegee's song. This peculiar glitch
led the good people of the Beeb to track down the singer, and last
week we were treated to a riveting interview with Massegee, on her
tour bus, as she traversed the Southern States, spreading the
Her story includes her witnessing Kennedy's assassination at
first hand; the gangland slaying of her husband; and a drugs
problem; and if even half of it is true, it is worthy of a
programme on its own.
But the most bizarre element of the Massegee phenomenon is that
the yodelling is delivered not by her, but by her ventriloquist
dummy, Erick. The vocal dexterity required to yodel is something of
a miracle; to manage it without moving your lips is surely a gift
which could only be bestowed by the Almighty.
This accident of broadcasting will surely be one of the most
memorable episodes of radio this year.
By comparison, the eerie song of the gibbon, echoing across the
rain forest, seems almost ordinary. Yet it is one of the sounds
that convinces many scientists that music is an integral part of
our development as a species. It was an argument taken up by Robert
Winston in the first of a four-part series, The Science of
Music (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week), with the help of, among
others, musicologists, psychologists, and neuro-scientists.
Indeed, near the beginning of the programme, an archaeologist,
Steven Mithen, said that music was too important a subject to be
left to musicologists. On the evidence of this programme, it is too
important to be appropriated by any discipline.
There have been excellent books on the links between music,
evolution, and emotional response, but I get the sense that, as
research continues, music should be treated not as a single
subject, but as a curriculum in itself. A programme of this kind,
20 years ago, might have contained enough material for one
30-minute slot. Now, two-hours' radio will only scrape the
In the spirit of joined-up programming, Radio 3 encouraged its
Breakfast listeners on Thursday morning to suggest their
favourite sad music, via email, Twitter, and the rest. It is one
step away from the Classic FM approach, whereby every other piece
of classical music is defined in terms of its ability to relax the
For me, as a professional musician, a great deal of classical
music - especially choral music - makes me anxious. So I was
pleased to hear the tweet of a Radio 3 listener, declaring what
balderdash that was; if a piece of music makes you sad, switch it
off, and put on a Pomp and Circumstance march instead.