The composer Phillip Glass was asked on two occasions: ‘so what is music to you Mr Glass?’. The first time he responded with the words: ‘of all the languages that humans speak, music is the most eloquent’. However he felt that his answer was incomplete.
When asked the same question a few years later, he instinctively replied: ‘music is a place. It’s a place which is as real as Chicago, or Sydney or any place you’ve been to. It’s an absolute, actual place’. He went on to say that music ‘is a real place and once you know where that place is, you can go there’.
Music for me is this place where thoughts reside and emotions dwell. Songwriters, musicians and listeners all have the unique chance to enter this magical kingdom whenever they choose. However, sometimes we need to find the way to calm our over active minds and hearts to get there.
Music accompanies us on our path through life in all its moments of happiness, joy, pain and uncertainty. It is a priceless gift and companion that gives us courage. Songs and music are journeys of emotion, and voyages ‘through the halls of your mind’.
There are some songwriters who really touch the soul, and for me one of them is Nick Drake. He seems to lead the listener effortlessly to a magical place or kingdom. I have been inspired by all three of his albums but particularly ‘Five Leaves left’.
I wrote a tribute song for him called ‘A Golden Thread’ about how music is the golden thread that leads us to another world. We are led there with chords of hope and feel its comfort: ‘Do not despair / music’s everywhere / For those who dwell on the magic of the evening air / Do not despair / music’s everywhere’.
It’s wonderful when we lose our ego in music. We find freedom. To do this, we have to focus clearly on the notes and yet relax enough to let the music touch and flow through us. We make mistakes when we are too tense, but also when we are too casual or ‘full of ourselves’ when we play. Respect is all. We need to lose our ‘self’ to enter the physical realm of music and become one with a higher force.
There is a simple way of knowing if we have reached this place. It is when at the end of a piece, we have a feeling of being ‘suspended in time’. The present moment becomes ‘physically extended’ and ‘drawn out’, as we reside in a sense of heightened awareness. Touched by a spirit. When both performer and audience experience this sensation together, it is a magical moment of unfathomable calm that takes us beyond understanding. We reach the sacred space where we find ourselves ‘in another world’.
We need songs, stories and music that reach deep into their hearts. Music is a language that lays all bare. Emotions, soul and experience. It is hard not be moved by inspired music. We feel the common spirit and emotion even if we do not understand the exact circumstances in which it was written.
Music touches our soul. A unique language without words that reaches deep within all of us – right down to our innermost being. Whatever our background, this language has no barriers and communicates to all ages and nationalities without the need for any words. We are never alone as long as we have music with us.
The ancient Greeks believed that the planets revolved around the earth, creating a ‘divine music’ inaudible to mortals. I love this image and took it as a metaphor for inspiration in songwriting. I saw this as the moment a ‘mortal’ songwriter hears a melody that comes ‘from afar’ for a second – then it’s gone! We need to catch this spontaneous, divine inspiration and hold it close to our hearts. This music that falls effortlessly to us is inspiration. We mustn’t let it escape into thin air, but use it immediately to create our song. I wrote about this experience in a song called ‘Music from Afar’ in 2013. A new version of this song simply called ‘From Afar’ and recorded with Soundzanobi will be released in 2022.
A song may take time to finish though. And this is the craft and graft of the song writing process. This comes after the inspiration. I often feel I am working on something that already exists, and is just waiting to be found. It feels like I’m mining for a hidden stone – like a buried diamond that needs to be unearthed. I‘m digging it out. The song gradually takes its shape and form under the digging and exploration work on the keys. The grafting and polishing work can be time consuming.
A song without an audience is like a tree without branches. Songs need to stretch out and blossom in the hearts of those who listen to them and communicate meaning, feelings and passions. This lies at the root of the vision for the website. A sharing that can bloom at any time or in any place in the listener.
I see the listeners as ‘branches of the tree’ through which the joy and sap of the song can spread and blossom. It’s not just expressing my own emotions and inner world or reminiscences that really matters, but trying to connect to the audience and throw them a message. Sharing common feelings through a lifeline or ‘golden thread’. This hopefully leads them for a moment into another world.
Songs and music encourage and give us energy to challenge limitations and go beyond our comfort zones. We have the fuel and the energy that can lead to action and personal change. With the power of music and songs we can blossom. As expressed in the lyrics of one of my songs:
‘It’s time for you to blossom
Feel stronger all the time
Explore the world around you and
Stretch your branches high’
In the end it is humbling to think that something you have written may touch the soul of another human in a way that supports and nourishes them, and helps them face a moment with more courage. If I think of all the songs that have inspired me, I know that what we do as songwriters is a gift that really matters. With the power of social media and music streaming, songs can touch other people all over the world at any moment of the day or night in whatever place or state or mind. And this is the reason for writing and producing and holding on to a vision where dreams and feelings can be cherished and shared – ‘don’t let them fade’.
‘It’s only with the heart that we can see truly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.’
(Antoine de Saint-Exupery ‘The Little Prince’)
It was my father who taught me the importance of responding to music with the heart. Though not a musician himself, he felt music both as a physical and emotional experience.
Listening to a piece of music he just couldn’t stand still! When I was young, I remember him in our kitchen on a Sunday morning furiously conducting the frenzied last movement of a Beethoven piano concerto or symphony with his hands, or a cooking spoon or whatever utensil he could find to hand as he was peeling the potatoes. ‘You have to move, son!’ he cried out. Pacing up and down. To this day I have this wonderful vision of a man in a red and black striped cooking apron conducting Beethoven with a ladle.
And sometimes he would do something which was very un-British. Something rather strange for a traditional ‘old school’ man. When moved by the particular beauty of a slow movement, tears would well up in his eyes. I’ve never forgotten that. How music can make us happy and laugh, but can also be so beautiful that we it can sometimes make us cry. And that may be a good thing. Because it makes us realise what beauty is, and what being human is.
Shakespeare knew this all those years ago and of the need to be wary of those with no music inside themselves:
‘The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music’.
(The Merchant of Venice)
William John Dulborough (1927– 2011)