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So Am I Musical?

Music is so important in our lives at home, I wanted to write a little more about what that means to me.

A visiting friend, upon seeing our random hotchpotch of instruments kicking around the place, commented that she hadn’t realised I was so musical. I sort of fidgeted, and pointed out that they weren’t all mine (the household messes around with them pretty equally), and muttered that I wasn’t very good on any of them.

Why was I so uncomfortable with her comment? I guess I simply don’t ascribe the word “musical” to myself. Some words are just difficult to own, and not just for me. Musical, artistic, creative, these are difficult words for many of us. We associate them with a “type”, and may not feel entitled to use them about ourselves.

I’m not sure we’re even all clear on what it means. Someone who’s paid for making music? Some poor bugger who was pushed through the grades at school? A passionate lover of music made and played by others? None of these things feel like it.

A friend who has studied musicology (wow) was explaining to me that as part of her work she tried to understand what percentage of the West African population would describe themselves as musical, relative to the percentage of Europeans. The most telling thing of all, is that many of the West Africans couldn’t make sense of the question. Music is just there. Some people will be instrumentalists, some not, some may be part of the griot tradition, some not, but if music is present, you simply join in. Or you don’t, but it’s not about being musical or otherwise. You may not eat at a given moment either but it doesn’t mean you don’t do food.

My father, who it must be conceded, cannot carry a tune in a bucket, was shut off from music by his choirmaster’s damning assessment of him. What a narrow thing to do! He adores music, particularly opera, and boy can he tell if the performance is good or not. He understands music. He may not be a singer that many would choose to listen to (although I have always loved his singing, and still do, he’s me Dad after all,) but he could have played an instrument if he hadn’t been put off; perhaps not a violin, with its tricky intonation, but a recorder, or piano or any number of fascinating percussive instruments. But he’s not “musical”, so big fat full stop, box closed.

This is, of course, nonsense. Happily he’s found his opera now, and his life is richer for it.

But for so many people, “musical” is just yet another item on the list of things we decide (or worse still, let others decide for us) that we are or we aren’t. Our culture’s obsessions with specialising, with boxes and labels and forced choice has left nearly all of us cut off from large parts of our nature, mutilated as people because at some point, probably ridiculously young, we were labelled musical or not, creative or not, science-y or not, sporty or not. We were put in our neat little box, by our school, by our peers, and by any number of aspects both meaningful and meaningless that have absolutely nothing with these things.

So am I musical?

Who cares? I’m off to make some noise.

Categories: Playing Around

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