Last week was half-term break in the UK, so there was no school. This meant I could have a short break with my daughters and go to some music shows and concerts. Over the last week I went to three different events! I don’t normally go to that many in a week. It’s just the way it worked out.
I want to tell you about these events. Why? Because they brought to my mind many of the things I have been saying lately about live music.
First of all, this is what the events were:
- An opera by Prokofiev (‘The Gambler’).
- The musical ‘Sister Act’ (a musical is like an opera, but with popular music instead of classical music).
- A concert of music by Steve Reich.
All three of these events were great! I could write lots about each one of them, but I’m not going to. Instead I’m just going to say a little about what was so good about the fact that they were live events.
- The opera by Prokofiev: This was at the Royal Opera House in London. There were about 30 singers and actors, and probably even more musicians playing instruments. And then there was the unknown number of people behind the stage sorting out costumes, doing make-up, pulling curtains, doing lights… There were hundreds of people involved! These people were all working very hard to make the best opera they could.
And it showed! The amount of skill, effort, practice, preparation, etc. that went into the opera was amazing! Yet when the opera was finished, that was it. It was over. That opera could never be seen again in the same way. It was simply a memory. I remember thinking how very special that was when we were clapping the performers at the end.
But then something very unusual happened. The stage emptied, leaving one singer behind who wanted to say something. I had never seen this before. What did he want to say? Well it turned out that every theatre in London was raising money for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. The performers were going to be at the exits shaking buckets!
I had already given money for Haiti. I didn’t feel the need to give any more. But when I saw the main singer standing at the exit with a bucket, I did give more. Why? Because I thought, this man has just worked very hard for me. He has given me a lot. And he was now asking for something from me.
So I gave money—not because I felt I needed to, but because of the relationship that had been made between us that night! Live music really does form relationships!!
- The musical ‘Sister Act’: This was at the London Palladium. I took both my daughters to this and they had a fantastic time! It was great fun.
Again many people worked very hard to make the show as good as it could possibly be. But I don’t need to go into that again. What I will say, though, is that I know my daughters (and me!) wouldn’t have had such a fantastic time if they’d only seen the show on a DVD or at a cinema.
Anyway, the main thing I want to say about ‘Sister Act’ is about the story itself. ‘Sister Act’ is about a convent. In the beginning of the show, the nuns in the convent are rather dull and bored. They don’t sing very well either. And no-one comes to their church. Then along comes the main character, Deloris. She is not a nun, but a singer of popular music. She comes to the convent because she needs somewhere to hide from the baddies. Unfortunately, though, the convent doesn’t suit her one little bit!!!
Nevertheless, in a short while, Deloris turns the convent around. The nuns start to sing with enthusiasm and they start to come alive. They are no longer bored. And people start coming to their church again.
At the end of the show the baddies are in prison and Deloris can leave the convent. However, she is supposed to be leading the nuns as they sing in front of the Pope. Although she has been desperate to get out of the convent, she helps the nuns to sing.
The message of the story is one of the power of love and loving relationships. And these relationships develop through music. The more the characters love each other, the better their singing gets. And the better their singing gets, the more they love each other. They learn to love through music! And they learn to make music through love! It’s a very powerful message. And a very good display of the power of music.
- The concert of music by Steve Reich. This was held in the Birmingham Town Hall. The ‘Guardian’ newspaper had listed this concert as the top classical concert of the week. I was very excited. And I wasn’t disappointed. It was quite simply one of the best concerts I have ever been to!!! (I was so excited by it that I added a Steve Reich page for you to look at.)
But I doubt very much whether I would listen to this music on CD. Why? Because the music is rather strange (see below for a video of the ‘Clapping Music’ I heard to give you an idea!). It seems to go on and on repeating itself. The main piece of the evening was called ‘Drumming’ (you can see a video of the beginning of it on the Steve Reich page). It was simply an hour or more of people hitting drums, xylophones, and other things, with odd bits thrown in like whistling. Does that sound like fun? I bet you’re more likely to be thinking that it sounds boring!
But you had to be there to see that it wasn’t. It was so exciting! The players put so much energy into their playing. And they had to concentrate very hard too. You couldn’t afford to make a mistake in this piece! It was so exciting to see all this energy—to see the many arms flying around as the musicians hit the different instruments.
The musicians obviously knew each other very well. They had obviously been working together very hard to be able to play the music. There was so much trust, so much looking out for each other, helping others… They had a great relationship. And this came across in the music. It was very moving to see people working together so well and so closely.
I doubt whether many of us will ever work that closely with other people in our whole lives. These musicians showed everybody just how closely people can work together if they try. They showed everybody what can be achieved if only we can learn to co-operate.
I think that’s a great lesson for anyone to learn!
So there you have it. Three performances in one week. What a treat!
Finally, here is a video about one of the events I went to. It is a video of one of the short pieces I heard at the Steve Reich concert—‘Clapping Music’. What do you think of this?
‘Clapping Music’ by Steve Reich
By the way, when I first wrote this article there was a video trailer for ‘Sister Act’ as well. Unfortunately this video doesn’t exist anymore.
- Clapping Music (1972) by Steve Reich. Clapping Music (1972) was Steve Reich’s attempt to write a piece of music requiring nothing but the human body — two performers that hand-clap. There is more information about this one on the video’s YouTube page.