Thursday 10 April 2008

Music, Rage and Joy

I saw two films yesterday. Many Borderlines regulars behave like reluctant smokers and say things like 'I'm trying to cut down this year'. So only two films yesterday, but the addiction is as strong as ever.
Film One was Tocar y Lucher (To Play and to Fight), a documentary about the Venezuelan youth orchestra system. Starting as a modest programme to expose rural children to classical music, this has developed into a social phenomenon of extraordinary power and beauty. With around 250,000 young people involved, it has become a training ground for classical orchestras of the world, but far more importantly, has had a significant impact on the cultural horizons and expectations of a generation of children in what is, in economic terms, a relatively poor country. You watch the film with an awareness of the grim alternative choices for most of these kids. The image of a young girl of nine walking through an alleyway in the slums of Caracas and practising her violin is one I shall remember for a long time.
Film Two was the BAFTA screening of Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go, a brilliantly apt title for a sometimes heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful documentary about the children and staff at Mulberry Bush School. This is a school for the most difficult and emotionally traumatised children who have been excluded from mainstream education. Their terrible rage coexists with a painful vulnerability and need for love and recognition from adults. The staff are saints. The fees are six times higher than Eton. There are ironies. The children are not allowed to see the film because of the level of bad language used by the children.
There were Q&A afterwards and the music teacher who features in the film was asked about the role of music, which seemed a regular oasis of calm within a setting that was often frantic and violent. The children enjoyed taking part in pop concerts, but it was the one to one sessions on recorder and violin where individual children were most focused and still. The teacher said that she had never had to deal with extreme behaviour in a music session, and that none of the instruments had ever been damaged. In the context of what we had seen earlier this seemed extraordinary.
So what is it about (classical) music? We seem (in the UK at least) to recognise its strange power, whilst ensuring that most young people have little access. Classical music is becoming completely professionalised. Not so in Venezuela! Where, by the way, the chorus wear bright blues, greens and yellows. Now I can just about take the imaginative leap to young people in the UK becoming involved in classical music. But the idea of the Hereford Choral Society wearing anything other than funereal black is, as Captain Mainwaring would have said, in the realms of fantasy.

1 comment:

Trekker said...

I just wish the director of Tocar y Luchar had felt able to tell us how the system worked. Were the teachers all volunteers? Who supplied the instruments? etc. Surely the point is to inspire people to do something - so say how.