African tribal drummers, Dir. Vicente Alberola, Hard of Hearing, Japanese taiko drummers, Music Appreciation, Music Distortion, Orquesta Joven de la Sinfónica de Galicia, Ravel's Bolero, Torvill and Dean
Grandmaster Seiichi Tanaka and the San Francisco Taiko Dojo
By NPS – NPGallery, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=81620954
As some of you know, I can no longer enjoy listening to music. When my hearing started to degrade in the early 2000s, so too did my ability to appreciate music. The notes became distorted; I was unable to make out the melodies; and, eventually, after an MRI scan that revealed no cause for alarm, and several visits to a Cambridge University research group to undertake extensive hearing tests, I gave up trying to figure out the cause of the distortion and sold my CD collection for peanuts. Since then, apart from a night-time dream event in January 2017, I have shunned all forms of music except drum music such as performed by Japanese taiko players or African tribal drummers.
That is, until early this morning when I experienced an emotional moment.
Not long ago, I had an email exchange with someone who has a similar distortion problem to me and who found me on the Web. His name is David Lambert and he copied me an email he sent to the Music and Hearing Aid researchers at Leeds University, another group with whom I have had contact. In his email, David mentioned that he’d found several pieces of music on YouTube that, although distorted to him, still gave him pleasure. One of the pieces was a live concert of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero, performed by a youth orchestra from Galicia in northwest Spain, the Orquesta Joven de la Sinfónica de Galicia conducted very enthusiastically by Vicente Alberola. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KsXPq3nedY
If you are fond of classical music, you will know of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero. It’s a pop classic favourite, often performed as a showcase piece and, to my mind, an example of controlled musical chaos. If you are not familiar with this piece of music, it was the background music to Torvill and Dean’s 1984 Winter Olympics barnstorming figure skating performance that earned them the highest score ever recorded for this event at the Olympics. The music starts low key with just a flute and a repetitive hypnotic background rhythm on a snare drum. There are two melodies, each repeated twice, and over the course of the performance, the melodies are passed from one instrument to another, flute to clarinet to bassoon to… from woodwind to brass, brass to strings and, finally to all players in the orchestra including percussion. As the music progresses, so it gets louder and, depending on the conductor, faster. It’s a mesmerising piece of music, simple in form but insistent in its demand on you, the listener, to hear it out to its noisy climax. For me in the past, Bolero was a piece of music to be played once a year in a darkened room with eyes closed, similar to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture, Holst’s Mars, Bringer of War from his Planets suite, and Rossini’s Thieving Magpie overture.
Back to my emotional moment. After David Lambert’s email, I searched for and found the YouTube video he recommended. It was around 6 o’clock this morning (I’m an early riser) and I plugged my earbuds into my laptop, turned up the volume, and clicked on Play. Sad to say, my hearing is still distorted but what a performance! The players were clearly enjoying the experience, the conductor was ‘in the zone’, and my brain somehow filled in the bits I missed and allowed me to enjoy the enthusiasm of the whole ensemble. And, I have to admit, halfway through I choked up and the tears flowed. Music had always been a big part of my life ever since my school days and I miss it terribly. Even though the rendition of Bolero sounded distorted this morning, it’s good to know I can still be moved by the experience of a group of young people playing a difficult piece of orchestral music under the baton of someone who would not be out of place as a conductor at the annual BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall.
I loved it. I’ll never know if the performance was note perfect; or if there were occasional timing issues; or if the tempo was a bit ragged; but I loved it. It’s what music is all about.
To Conductor Alberola and the youthful players of the Orquesta Joven de la Sinfónica de Galicia, thank you for providing me with an emotional moment. And thank you, David, for the recommendation.