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Music as therapy

18 September 2015

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“HOW many paupers, dying in want, could be supported on the salaries of singers?” The rebuke made by Erasmus to the pre-Reformation Church in England might equally be directed towards some ecclesiastical institutions nowadays — not least Trinity Church, Wall Street, which, as reported in Music in the Shadow of Ground Zero (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week), has a music programme costing some $2.9 million.

The response of the Vicar, the Revd Phillip Jackson, is straightforward: they do not have to make a choice between programming a concert of three Bach cantatas and feeding three families on the South Bronx. They have got so much money they can do both.

The charitable and communitarian commitment of the church was most clearly expressed in the weeks after 9/11, when Trinity’s sister church, St Paul’s, opened its doors full-time as a physical and emotional refuge.

The commitment continues in the form of free concerts, given by a range of artists from early classical specialists to hip-hop. We witnessed one example of the interaction of faith and music in the form of a communal song, led by the vocalist Bobby McFerrin, on the top of which the preacher delivered an extemporised sermon.

And yet, listening to all this wonderful artistry, I could not quite drown out Erasmus’s words. Trinity, Wall Street, presents a case-study in the social and theological efficacy of high-calibre music-making, and puritanical scepticism might have been better addressed by investigating more fully how and why this works. Professional musicians (of whom I am one) constantly argue for the benefits of playing great music to the deprived and socially excluded; but then we would, wouldn’t we?

At the time of writing, a significant number of people appear to be enjoying a stint of misty Socialist nostalgia; by the time you read this, the nostalgia may well have been burnt off by the cruel sun of reality. But, if you want to remain enswathed a little longer, then seek out Keir Hardie: Labour’s first leader (Radio 4, Thursday of last week), in which Gordon Brown pays tribute to an authentic Leftie who was down the mines by the age of ten, and wore a cloth cap to Parliament.

To justify Mr Brown’s participation, the script was peppered with comparisons between him and Hardie — they came from the same part of the world, were brought up in strong faith traditions, and so on — but even the presenter himself appeared uncomfortable with them. Indeed, the comparison that struck home above all others was surely unintentional: that Hardie was regarded by his colleagues as dour.

The element that lifted this biography was the extract from Attlee’s speech on the unveiling of Hardie’s statue in Parliament: a tingly moment when one becomes powerfully aware of ideological tradition in the Labour movement.

With so much written about the current refugee crisis, From Our Own Correspondent (Radio 4, Wednesday of last week) gave an anthology of reports on the situation from the past year. Kate Adie did her best not to say “We told you so,” but you could hear it in her voice.

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