It's been a rocky few months, for one reason and another, mostly family-related and Covid and impending war certainly haven't helped matters. Current affairs create stress and worry, which can affect us all (more on that shortly), some more than others. We find ourselves in a caravan overlooking the sea, on holiday with Child B and C for the latter's birthday. It's a haven away from the tension of life, the universe and everything. As my vicar says, it's like hitting the reset button. Leaving the town behind and heading to a familiar destination, it brings a sense of infectious charged anticipation for the kids. The giggles, the excitement, the advent thrill of the lights and sounds of the arcade already creating the sense of wonder conjured from memory and it is as if we've already arrived. Child B loves to point out every river, bridge, road and petrol station along the way, a list that doesn't change between visits and so brings familiarity even to myself and the better half. Each list item is the most precious thing on earth to him and so it is to us. Esso has never been such a joyous sight for any other reason!
Today we explored the familiar sights of the animals and farm vehicles in one of our favourite haunts, hand-feeding goats, alpacas and lambs whilst taking in the sensory joy of their soft fur and nibbly teeth and tongues. Then to the arcade to reel in "fish" and win bucketloads of tickets.
I'm reminded of Godfrey Birtill's Christian worship song, Outrageous Grace:
There's a lot of pain but a lot more healing
There's a lot of trouble but a lot more peace
There's a lot of hate but a lot more loving
There's a lot of sin but a lot more grace
And I remember that whatever is happening in the world, whatever destruction is being wreaked, whatever pain, hurt and suffering, in the momentary laughter of a child, all is well.
David George Haskell, in his book The Song of Trees (2017), repeatedly visits twelve trees around the world over twelve years, recording the sounds that they make, fascinated by the changes that those trees undertake throughout that time in those environments - for one in particular, the sound of the underground could be heard resonating through that tree, yet not with human ears! It led me to me to consider what environments have impacted upon me in my own growth. When I was younger, I was asked what I hoped my future career might look like. The answer was, inevitably, to graduate from a conservatoire as a conductor, spend ten years honing my craft on the world landscape, settle, have and raise children while lecturing at a university and then consider a return to performing once they were all grown up. On meeting my beautiful Sara, I was asked the question again and suddenly I realised that my answer had changed.
I was now a parent. I was already conducting at university as an associate lecturer and felt reasonably confident in my skill levels (that's not to say that I couldn't have gained more from a conservatoire, of course), but career-wise, I had leapt forwards by fifteen years or so. This beautiful opportunity to share a connection with our children, the future of our family - our people - and to create a place to call home with them was overwhelming and a true, true blessing. Becoming a parent has influenced how I develop as a person and to be thrown into a completely unknown situation has, on the one hand been bewildering and terrifying, but on another a blessing like no other.
We're all affected by the crisis in Ukraine, in one capacity or another (GCT, 2022), but there is something about the innocence of our children and shielding them from the horrors on the other side of the world at whatever cost. James Garbarino (2008) quotes six-year-old Brittany, "Mommy, are terrorists people too?" Bad enough that any child should know that word, but I know that I will protect my children from those horrors until my dying breath.
As musicians we may well question whether our work might become cultural pawns, appropriated by whichever government seeks to forge a connection with it and weaponise it, as Wagner's legacy found (Kater, 1997) with the Nazis, but more powerfully, we can use it to recognise public feeling and to channel it in a new direction towards unification and peace.
If nothing else, perhaps we can somehow remind the world that we were all children once, and seek to find our own laughter again. And again I remember that whatever is happening in the world, whatever destruction is being wreaked, whatever pain, hurt and suffering, in the momentary laughter of a child, all is well.
Birtill, G. (2007). Outrageous Grace. Very God. Toronto, Canada: Kingsway Music [CD]
Garbarino, J. (2008). Children and the Dark Side of Human Experience. Berlin: Springer Science
GCT. (2022). Conflict in Ukraine. Council on Foreign Relations https://www.cfr.org/global-conflict-tracker/conflict/conflict-ukraine [accessed 13 March 2022]
Haskell, D. G. (2017). The Song of Trees. New York: Viking Press USA
Kater, M.H. (1997). The Twisted Muse: Musicians and their Music in the Third Reich. Oxford: Oxford University Press