A Slice of My Life No. 1: The Power of Sorrow
I am hoping, as I type this, that the post you are about to read is far less bleak than you might imagine. That was certainly my experience as I took part in a performance of Gorecki's 3rd Symphony the other day (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs). This music is based on various songs or lyrics to do with loss of children or parents in war, and certainly isn't a jolly piece. Having said that, it also isn't quite as utterly depressing as you might think. Emotional, however, is a different matter.
Its use of repeated phrases and notes can create a meditative feel at times, and especially in the first movement - lasting around 30 mins with a 24 bar phrase played in a canon, passed upwards through the pitches in the strings and introducing an ethereal soprano solo - the music creates something much much more than the sum of its parts. Members of the orchestra and audience alike were brought to tears, and yet I don't think many would say they found the concert a depressing experience.
Grief and sorrow are one of the most universally shared emotions. Different cultures may express or deal with these emotions in different ways, but shared sorrow is part of what makes us human and in fact brings us together. Sorrow is, as bleak as this may sound, a natural and normal part of human life (but don't worry, so is happiness and joy and everything associated with that too!). Therefore, music such as this actually has another profound way of bringing people together and sharing part of their humanity with each other. We had united as it was in order to raise money towards music educational endeavours, and so to also share this feature with musicians who had helped me grow as a musician and, perhaps more importantly, a human, was even more special.
This concert is now up there with some of the most profound musical experiences of my life so far, and it has shed a new light on the emotion and atmosphere it had to offer. Sorrow, while upsetting, doesn't necessarily need to be a bad thing if it can bring people together in this way and is the catalyst for such beauty.
Also, while I'm here, I'd like to make a small argument for 'playing about' with concert structure. Instead of playing the symphony through one movement after the next, we sat in the dark and played each movement interwoven with shorter pieces by a chamber choir (who were often offstage). The effect was, I would argue, even more profound (not to mention the whole thing took place in the beautiful Sheffield Cathedral) than if we had acted like a 'normal' orchestra. Perhaps music should be allowed to speak for itself more often, rather than us always forcing it into the same, traditionally shaped box.