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The sound of music

04 October 2013


SURELY a significant factor in the growth in cathedral congregations in recent years has been an increasing appreciation of the glory of the music, helped along by the contrariwise realisation that musical standards in most parish churches have become so God-awful. Clergy like to think that it is a thirst for a profound liturgical encounter with the Lord, but it is just as likely to be the enjoyment of a choir and organ.

The power of music to enhance has been illuminated by Sound of Cinema: The music that made the movies (BBC4, Thursday of last week). Neil Brand began with how pre-recorded sound took over from live cinema bands in 1926. Nazi anti-Semitism played a vital part: in the '30s, many European composers sought work in Hollywood to escape persecution.

Many '30s film scores benefit from the great German/Viennese tradition - leitmotiv, counterpoint, orchestration, all of the highest craftsmanship. For most people, in the days of mass cinema-going, far more heard film soundtracks than would ever enter a concert hall.

The subliminal message, we learned, was surprisingly layered, our emotions led in carefully managed directions. Good film music draws us in, engages us with a character; it can build up tension even when nothing special is happening on screen.

This was enthusiastic, committed TV, willing to take its audience seriously, knowing we would not be scared off by musical technicalities or demonstrations of how themes and scenes are built up from tiny nuggets that we learn to associate with this or that character.

My only criticism is that it had little reference to Continental films; I particularly like those that dare for long stretches to have no background music whatsoever.

I can check my own critical opinion nowadays by reference to Gogglebox (Channel 4, Wednesdays), in which households throughout the country allow a TV camera into their living rooms to record them watching television. It was profoundly depressing.

No doubt the families have been chosen for their fluency in voicing an uninhibited response to the shows. You could conclude that the programmes are at least provoking debate, and that there is more moral disgust at the manipulations of, say, The X Factor than its production team might appreciate; but the viewers keep watching, despite their disapproval.

Cultural prejudices are sadly confirmed: a distressing amount of fattening food was consumed by viewers whose size was matched only by the elephantine proportions of their sofas - except in the case of one couple who tuck themselves up in bed to ensure even greater comfort.

The one couple who, living in a very grand house, did not complement their viewing with junk food rather spoiled the effect by sitting in front of a drinks cabinet so well-stocked as to make their complementary alcohol of choice a matter for prolonged discussion.

The overall impression, I am sorry to report, is less of discriminating viewing than undemanding indulgence. But then, perhaps, all the rest of the population is out at choir practice.

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