THE INFLUENCE OF MUSIC ON THE COMMUNITY
AN ADDRESS BY MR. EDWARD BRANSCOMBE, OF WESTMINISTER ABBY
28th March 1928.
[Mr. Branscombe was accompanied by his choir of men and boys, The Westminster Glee Singers, and before his address Mr. Edmund Jones (Magistrate) presented each boy of the choir with a box of candy.]
Mr. Hugh Eayrs occupied the chair and introduced the speaker, who was received with applause and said: I see I am to talk to you on a rather fearsome subject: "What English music means to the Britisher." You know the Britisher is a very strange animal, especially in his native lair. He has for many centuries cultivated the habit of suppressing his feelings, and so you really cannot say what anything means to him until you know him very well. So as the subject is a little bit difficult and not very interesting, with your permission I am going to talk on something rather different, more connected with music. I want to speak on the Influence of Music on the Community. It is never a very easy matter to speak to a gathering such as this on a technical subject. Music, you will all understand, is a science, with a technique attached to it, and if you try to discuss it in a way that is understandable to everybody, you very often tell the musically inclined man many things that he knows better than you, and sometimes you run the risk also of sailing over the heads of the non-musical. But if I talk to you in plain language about the influence of music on the community, I think you will find it more interesting than the subject that had been selected for me.
I suppose there are very few of us that are not aware in some degree or other of what music can do. You all know how music can lift you up to a sense of great elation or enthusiasm, how it can rouse within all of us very high emotions and desires, how it can depress us, and how it can affect every one of the numerous emotions which are part of the outfit of humanity. Let us take these, starting from the top, with what I shall call the spiritual aspect. We all know the enormous power that music has in religious observances and ceremonies; we all know the uplifting effect of music, particularly when it is in any sense connected with Divine service, and in that higher aspect of music it has gained the name of The Divine Art. But there is something more from the spiritual side in the value of music, because it is the most potent former of character that the world knows. Perhaps that may seem strange. There is a phraseI term it a catch-phrase--that human nature is unchanging. It is a phrase that trips very glibly off the tongue when anybody wishes to excuse himself or herself for something not quite desirable. "It is my nature, I was born so, and nothing can alter it." Surely that is all incorrect; surely everybody knows as we go on in life how one's character does change, and I want to show you what an enormously valuable factor music is in the changing of the undesirable side of our characters and our natures. You may take one very simple fact. You know in this present day, we are all suffering even at this late stage from the devastating emotional and mental effects of the war, and in that department music has been of enormous potency in rectifying that very distressing condition of affairs. We are suffering, an enormous number of us, from irritability, from nervous trouble of all types, and there is nothing more powerful in the world than a particular form of music for remedying that condition. It is quite possible for anybody to test that. We who are constantly engaged in doing this work night after night, know beyond peradventure what those effects are. We know some of us go into our work in anything but a happy and right condition of mind, and yet we have not been at that work for very many minutes before the whole attitude is changed towards things; there is more cheerfulness, more composure, and so on. I shall give you a little later the scientific explanation of what happens in this case.
Let us take the question of the bearing of music on health. What is ill health? Now I am going to give you a rather unusual explanation; I cannot say that it is one that everyone can accept, we are not all of the same bent of mind, but my investigations and studies in this matter have been carried out from rather an unusual angle. I look at all these things--I hope no one will smileI look at these things all from the occult standpoint, and that will give you the cue to some rather cryptic sayings that may fall from me in the course of my little talk with you. We are accustomed to think that the automatic actions of the body are carried on without any guiding hand. We are accustomed to think that the digestive organism, the circulation of the blood, the beating of the heart, and all these things, just happen by chance. My friends, nothing happens by chance. There is a purpose in everything, and there is a reason for everything, and what I want is this slight discussion to impress upon you is this idea that there is a definite body of entities, of one type or another, call it what you will, who are looking after those particular functions of the human body. To give a simple illustration: You know if you cut your finger and you keep the dirt out of that cut, that will heal by itself. The doctors have a phrase for the process, but it is only a phrase. What power is it that causes that healing, that brings that healing into effect? What power is it that draws the ends of those severed pieces of skin together? It is not chance. Something is doing it. Those little entities or beings, whatever you like to term them, that govern all these functions of the body, immediately start to work on that damage, and do their utmost to repair it, and if you let it alone, if it is an injury of a more or less minor nature, the thing will to all intents and purposes heal itself, as we all know. That does not happen. Picture for a moment this little army of entities carrying out all those functions, doing all the repair work of the body, and so on, and then think that if you give them right conditions in which to work they can carry out their functions fifty times better than if you give them wrong conditions. Ill health is merely these entities or beings working in a condition of disharmony. You can take a simple and concrete instance. You sit down to a meal when you are in a condition of anger, and what do you get? A case of acute indigestion. Your wise course is to let your meal wait till your emotional body is at rest. If not, you are asking this large body of workers to carry out certain duties connected with your digestive functions, and you are giving them the worst possible conditions under which to work. This was seen enormously in the war, and the influence of music was seen to be of such extraordinary value. As many of you well know, time and time again when a regiment or a body of men has been on the march and well-nigh exhausted, and as close to passing out into the next world as human beings could be and still keep moving what has been done? The band has started to play, and the spirits of those men revived, and an entirely different attitude exists amongst them, and the explanation of that is not a very difficult one. When you get the human body in that stage, the mind is stirred by the impact of military music, by rhythm, or more particularly, should we say, the oft-repeated accent has a steadying effect, it restores all this disharmony and enables a man to take control once more of that part of his organism which previously was gradually slipping beyond his control.
You know there are many instances of the application of this healing power of music. There was a case of an American physician who took over to Europe one of his patients who was suffering from a very very distressing form of melancholia, with suicidal tendencies. This physician took him into some of the European capitals, and he found himself in Vienna, and for the want of something better to do frequented restaurants where there was a band, and he found after one or two visits that his patient showed a little more interest in things and was momentarily a little better. He linked the two things up and carried that thing on systematically, and took him through a course of light opera, and then a course of grand opera, and it resulted in a total and complete cure. In our country, one of our kings, George III, was similarly troubled, and he knew of the power of music, and when the melancholia was coming on he would always order the presence of his musicians, and restore himself to a better condition.
In my younger days, when my friend Mr. Donald Reid was a little boy and used to sing duets with me, we had a rather interesting experiment. Westminster Hospital is right opposite the Abbey, and Canon Harper knew of these beneficent influences of music and he got a little party of singers and instrumentalists to go to the bedsides of the patients to help them in any way he could. But most unfortunately, there is no systematic knowledge of the subject, and it is not possible at the present moment to choose your music to produce the desired results. So the experiment was not wholly and entirely successful.
Shall we turn to the value of music in business life? You might say, "Surely it has no part there". It has a very great part. In our country quite recently, one of our great department stores started community singing at half past eight in the morning for their employees. You may say, "What does that do?" It starts the whole emotional outfit in a harmonious and pleasant way. It brings all these people together and commences the day in this very delightful fashion. You know, it is only a truism that how you begin the day is very often how you go on and how you end it. In America, that land of strange happenings, they had another application of music. In connection with University work it has long been known that if you put a person under an examination, it is not by any means certain that you are going to get a clear idea of what his capabilities are. The nerves play such havoc with us. At one of the universities they conceived the idea of getting all the students into a room, and playing the organ to them for half an hour. The results were extraordinary as compared with the students who had not that influence of music. In business life, what music does is this, it helps a man towards balance, towards equipoise and equability. The rhythm of music will do that. I will not say it makes him clearer headed, but it certainly gives him the possibility of handling his brain in a better manner than the man who has only a slight portion of that composure and balance which are of such great importance in business life. The rhythm of music is a very wonderful thing.
Shall we pass to the question of the education of the young? I think the idea is dying out, though it has been a very very slow death, that music and the cultivation of it is the right only of people who have plenty of leisure and desire some pleasant and refined amusement. I really think the time is coming when people are beginning to regard music as it should be regarded, as an integral part of the education and up-bringing of every child. (Applause.) There are some movements in that direction now, and they mostly come from the younger parts of the Empire. In New Zealand, a country where I have spent a considerable amount of time, they are most advanced. They have recently brought out to that country four men from home who undertake the supervision of vocal music in the public schools, and they do it by teaching the teachers to sing. It is manifestly impossible, of course, to go around to all the schools and do that work yourself, but what they are doing is to train the teachers, and their ability to pass their examinations is regulated by their ability to take a class of children and teach them vocally. I wonder whether you can realize the enormous importance of that. It has such an enormous importance on the question of speech. If you do not speak decently, you cannot sing decently. Now I am getting on a rather touchy subject. I was warned of this before I stood up, but I always think it is best to face facts. People say in this country, "Why can't we produce boys that sing as your boys?" Well, the thing is simple. You have got them here by the thousand; our boys are not different from any other boys but what is different is the purity of their English.
There is no objection to a dialect except on the score of its unmusicality. To the musical ear certain dialects are a little bit hurtful; you do not get the musical sounds in certain dialects. Let me tell you the two worst in the world--the Cockney at home, the gentlemen who say "I sye." Even if you are not musical you can see that sound is not very elegant, it is not very pleasant to a musical ear. The other one--I hope there are none of our cousins from the United States here--(Laughter)--I will tell you very quietly so that they will not hear, it is the Yankee dialect. There is nothing more troublesome in the world to make good singers out of than a Cockney and a Yankee. (Laughter.) Insofar as you strike a country where the English is as pure as you can get it, so you will find the material for your boy singers is there just as it is in the Old Country. (Applause.) If you want, as you should want, in this beautiful land to encourage boy singing--and there is nothing more charming in the whole world to me, and I have been occupied in it for more years than I care to remember--that is the only way you can do it. If your children speak badly they must sing badly. What are you doing in singing? It is merely elongated, drawn-out speech; that is all. People have an idea that we have two sets of apparatus, one to speak with and one to sing with; nothing of the sort. Purity of English is the mark to aim at if you want good singing. Many years ago in the days of Queen Elizabeth it was the custom for every educated man to sing and to be able to read music. Those two things do not always run together. There is a story of a country gentleman who came to London and presented himself at Court, and when the dinner was over music books were handed around, and everybody in that room sang. And what did they sing? Very very difficult music. They sang the madrigals, and this gentleman was not able to take his part, "And so," said he, "I must forsooth betake myself to a learned and scholarly musician, that I may learn." I sometimes think we would be better off if we could do that way; if instead of my standing up to talk, we all sat down to sing. In the Old Country there is a reminiscence of that in the Madrigal Society. Everybody sings; you have no right there unless you sing. How you sing does not matter, it is the fact that you are embarking on singing as a pastime for your own particular pleasure, that counts. When dinner is done, music books are handed around, and to show you the interesting connection with those old times, the books are so printed that my vis-a-vis can sing his part and I sing mine from the same book. That is going on in the city of London to this day.
Shakespeare says "The man that hath no music in his soul is fit for strategems and spoils, let no man trust him." Shakespeare said many wise things, but that is perhaps the wisest. I really think the refining influences of music are so enormous that that would really be an absolutely truthful statement.
You may say to me, "How does singing compare with the learning of an instrument?" All the difference in the world. In singing you are speaking on your own instrument, and if there be, as I hold there is, an improvement of the emotions, the substituting of the right emotion for the undesirable one, which leads in the end to a change and alteration in a man's character, he gets that in the nearest possible way by singing, because playing upon his own instrument makes him his own mentor and his own teacher. Some people will say, "I cannot sing, I have no voice." Manifestly if a man had no voice he could not talk. Would you be surprised to know that singing is almost as natural an accomplishment of human beings as it is of birds? Everybody can sign. I do not say that everybody ought to. (Laughter.)
There is another rather important point. You know every eye forms its own standard of beauty in the form of art. Now what are you going to do with your young people, bearing in mind that there is that standard of what it likes and what it does not like? What are you going to do for the children of the community in these circumstances? There is only one wise thing, my friends, give them kindergarten music and lift them up gradually. I mention this because I have been the recipient of some rather uncomplimentary remarks, not on this tour but on others. I met an eminent man in Montreal who said, "I do not like the look of your programs, I see you have got this and that; we are a bit above that in Montreal." I said, "Yes, I suppose you are; how many of you?" (Laughter.) He said, "Quite a number." Well, you know a good number is two per cent of the population. Now I ask you in all common sense what should I do, coming to a country like this with programs that appeal to two per cent of the population? Sometimes the percentage is a bit greater. In this city, the first musical city of the Dominion, we expect to find it greater, and we sing something a little higher than the standard, but what would be the use of me coming into this country--not an inexpensive matter--and giving work which only two per cent of the community can take pleasure in? Am I doing music any service? I consider I am doing music a great disservice unless I am giving something that is understandable by the community, and pleasurable to them to listen to. (Applause.) I spoke to that gentlemen in that strain and then I said, "You know what a highbrow is?" He said "Yes, and I also know what a lowbrow is." I said, "I go right between the two." He said "That is a wise course." But you know the highbrow is a fanatic, just as the lowbrow. One leans to that which is common and undesirable, and the other toward that which is above everybody's head except his own.
If we are going to make any use of what music can do for us, there is a great necessity for ear training in our schools. That is being attended to in many places very much more than it was in my young days. As an illustration of what can be done for another of the senses: If you go to India, to Cashmere where they make the beautiful shawls, and you take a ball of wool that to you looks red, and give it to the Cashmere weavers, they will separate that into fifteen or more distinct shades, every one of which represents a different color to them. That is the result of centuries of training of the eye, and that is the reason why rugs and other things that come from that country have that inimitable softness and beauty. Similarly with the question of ear training.
Another enormous factor in our musical life is community singing. Community singing is carried on in most parts of the Empire, but I am not at all sure that the value of community singing is properly appreciated or understood. Most people say we come together for a delightful singsong and we let ourselves go. All very good, emotionally and so on, but my idea of community singing is that it is very desirable to cultivate a particular emotion--shall we say courage, power, strength. Very well, you have in this community singing a song which gives a great opportunity and you ask your singers to put out every fragment of power and strength and energy that they can into that verse, and you try that verse half a dozen times. What have you done? You have perceptibly raised the capacity for courage and power and strength in every one of your singers. (Applause.) That can be done through the whole range of emotions.
You get a concrete illustration of this working with the emotions if you take an ordinary instance. If a man comes to you and talks in a condition of great anger, you may be perfectly amiably disposed towards him, but what happens? After a little while you gradually begin to boil inside and you end up by being as angry as he. Similarly you know the man we call the wet blanket. You are in happy intercourse and a man comes in who bears that unfortunate cognomen, and little by little your spirits go down and down and down. Were you a clarivoyant, which I am not, but a good many people are, you could see emanating from that man these destructive vibrations, and they are impinging on your body and calling out from you a similar rate and type of vibration. The wet blanket man cannot help it; it is his normal mode of thought, it is emanating from him, he is exuding depression the whole time. That is a question of vibrations. Let me give you a few concrete illustrations to show how these things work with purely physical and visible things. Not many years ago in England there was a band playing near a ruined castle, and at a certain part of the piece they came to what we call a unison note, that is, every instrument playing the same note; and down went the walls of this ruin. What is the explanation of that? All matter, whether it is visible or invisible, is in a condition of vibration, steel and iron and rocks, and everything is in a condition of vibration, only so slow that the eye cannot see it. And when it vibrates, it is giving off a note; whether we can hear it or not has no bearing on the matter. The rate of vibration of that wall produced a certain note which was answered by the band with such force that the fabric of the wall was destroyed.
There is another instance that is spoken of in connection with Caruso, taking a tumbler and sounding it to get its note, and if you sing into the glass the corresponding note you shatter it. You have struck the rate of vibration of the glass, and the result follows. There was a case recently of a traveling musician going along the road with his fiddle under his arm. He came across some laborers constructing a bridge, and as they were taking their dinner he asked alms of them. He got nothing and he said"Very well, I will play your bridge down." He went and got the note of the bridge and then began to fiddle on that one note, and in the course of time the bridge began to rock. The workmen called him off. In a concert hall he said, "Did I but know your note I could play you down." You get the same idea in a body of men breaking step when they march over a bridge. It is the reiteration of the vibration that makes it unsafe for those men to keep in step.
You know we sometimes talk of reading between the lines. You get a letter from a man, couched in manifestly polite language, and you say to yourself, I do not like the feel of that; I think I can read between the lines. Do you know what has happened; that man has written to you in a state of anger, he has forced himself to write politely, but those vibrations of anger coming out of his body come out of his hand and impinge themselves on the paper, and when the letter is opened those vibrations of anger come out and assail you. That is the origin of the expression, reading between the lines.
In the domain of music you may take two great pianists, and ask them to play you an identical piece of music, and they may get totally different emotional and mental results. What do you think has happened there? It is the personality of the pianist, which of course counts in every instance, which is making itself felt through that seemingly dead matter of the instrument. That force of the man which is reaching you and affecting you, is passing out of the man through the finger tips, through the ivory of the keys, through the hammers and strings, and reaching you in that extraordinary way. That can be done by anybody and proves the enormous value we should attach to personality or temperament in individuals. You get the finished exposition of this power to express through a musical instrument on the violin, where the man's fingers are in direct contact with the string, or in a still finer way when he plays on the instrument we call the French horn.
Recently in America an author of considerable note wrote these words about a convention of conductors of symphony in the United States: "Nine-tenths of the American people will scarcely hear of it, and not one in ten thousand would be incommoded if they all disappeared, but if all the railway signalmen, or the milkmen, or the janitors, disappeared, the superb edifice erected by the Pilgrim Fathers would be smashed to ruin." There you get the superficial and erroneous view of the way music helps the community, treating it merely as a superficialist, as a pleasant amusement, and ignoring altogether the higher and lasting effects. The present position of music in the world is a very very difficult subject to discuss. I am not going to attempt to do it, but I do want to speak to you a little about that which should interest you, the position of jazz. There is a great deal of discussion going on in the world today among musicians in particular as to why jazz should exist. For those of us whose enduring love it is to follow music as a livelihood, there is nothing too bad for us to say about jazz, but I do want to say a kind and gentle word for the poor thing, and to show you that there was a reason once. I told you that after the war everybody knows the awfully jangled condition of the nerves and the whole emotional outfit. There was only one thing to remedy that, and that was this jazz music. The essence of jazz is the eternal reiteration of a certain accent. Rhythm is not concerned; it is accent. The eternal hitting of a note. That helped the world, it restored it, it straightened out all this tangle of emotions, and helped things. But now-a-days it has all gone wrong, it has all run riot; the whole thing now, in my humble opinion, should be suppressed by law. (Laughter and applause.) What I think we fail to understand, not only in music but in everything else in the world, is that there is an evolutionary law in progress, and that there is nothing that comes into the world that is not necessary at a particular time. I see some of my friends of the Church; I am sure they will not misunderstand me when I say that there are things of very great evil in every department of life, which yet are necessary. There are all sorts of false systems of theology and so on, but they tend in the end to separate the chaff from the wheat, and they give us something to think about, and to argue about, until ultimately we do spend a certain amount of time in the consideration of things which would otherwise not cross our paths. In the direction of music you see this evolutionary law working in a very very remarkable way. I am going to give you this only as a hypothesis; far be it from me to be in any sense dogmatic, but I hold that there is very strong evidence of this in the domain of music at the present day. You know all great musical composers are seers, they give us the unspoken thought of the people. You see the evidences; let me give you three. In Germany before the war what did you hear? Strident cacophony. In the music of Strauss and people of that type which Germany had at that time, we had this music, which depicts militancy. You all know the way Germany went into the war, nd you can find that reflected in the music just at that time. Go to Russia; the whole of Russian music is permeated by a never-ceasing strain of melancholy, and you all know the troubles the Russian Empire went through. Take our own country, what do you find at the present day? The folk tunes that we use in our concerts are being utilized not only as they are, but in major compositions; they are using them in string quartets and in symphonies, and so on. What does that argue? It foreshadows a peaceful, happier time for our country, the music foreshadowing what is coming in the very near future. (Applause.)
The modernist movement in music is a difficult one to understand because these modernists, these great men, are so very much greater than any of us; manifestly it must be so. They are on a level with the divine teachers, of the teachers of art capable of high composition, because they are engaged in uplifting the human race. Manifestly if a person is sent into the race to do that particular thing, he must be miles and miles above us. Take poetry and painting. Was the poetry of Browning understood in his day? Were the paintings of Turner understood in his day? And is the music of modern composers understood in our day? Most assuredly not. I want to tell you why the music is so strange and causing so much discussion. There is, in my estimation, the working out of this evolutionary law, carrying us to a greater point of detail in respect to music. The western musical scale is divided into a certain number of notes and half notes, and so on. In other countries they have a smaller differentiation, giving an infinity of results more than we have, and I believe all this modern music is approaching that time, and they are trying to get to it under the limitations of the modern keyboard. Without being technical, that is about all I should say, but the modernist has his place in music.
Not long ago they were cutting up Piccadilly in London; a workman was busily engaged with a compressed air drill, breaking up the concrete, and making a terrific noise. An old lady went up to him and said, "Well, my man, I don't know what instrument you are playing, and 1 hate this modern music, but here is a copper for you." (Laughter.)
We are credited with being of a little use in the welding of the Empire together. We bind you to ourselves a little bit tighter by the influence of music that so many of you know and so many of you love, and we are glad to sing anywhere, whether it be a chapel, as we call it, or a church or a theatre or a hall. I do love to sing to a large number of people, and I always find my most satisfactory results, from the standpoint of enthusiasm and interest, come from those people who frequent the vaudeville houses. Somebody once defined part singing by saying "part is singing and part is not." I think our singing is mostly the real thing, as far as we can make it so, and I want to offer you all our very very best thanks for the great honor and courtesy you have shown us in inviting us here. Now we are going to sing you something that is historical and of very great interest. It is termed a ballad and is that type of music which was sung in the 16th century, and danced by the people at one and the same time. I do not think many of us could do that now-a-days.
The Glee Singers then rendered "Now is the Month of May," written by Thomas Morley in 1590.
The thanks of the Club were tendered by Dr. Fricker.