Music and me

I have a funny relationship with music, I think, in a way that I find quite hard to explain. I’m going to try here, however, and I’d be interested to know if readers can identify with me, or if I actually am unusual in this.

I’ll start by saying what is not the case: I don’t dislike music; there is music I don’t enjoy, but there’s a lot of music that I like very much. And, as this implies, it doesn’t “all sound the same to me”, or something odd like that—I can identify if something is out of tune (although I do miss things that more musically trained ears notice); it’s not that it’s something I just can’t get into or understand at all. Nor is it the case that I enjoy the music I like on some intellectual, rather than an emotional or visceral level. Music affects me: some of it makes me sad; some of it makes me happy; some of it makes me excited; and all sorts of emotional effects inbetween. Nor do I ignore it: I do buy music; I do play it; I occasionally go to listen to it live. And it’s not that I don’t make a distinction between a world with music and a hypothetical world without it. The first is certainly preferable to me (although I’d be happier to live in the second when I’m trying to sleep).

It’s just that, if the world we live in changed suddenly into the second kind of world overnight, I think it would be a long time before I noticed. For all that I like music, its role in my life is quite small. This does not stem obviously from my upbringing. I grew up in a musical family: my mother has sung in choirs since long before I was born; my father’s not much of a singer (although he can hold a tune), but he spends most evenings napping to the sound of some CD. And I grew up in Wales, where singing (choral and solo) is at least as important as rugby—part of the school year is always taken up be preparations for the school Eisteddfod on St David’s Day and the Urdd Eisteddfod in May/June. Throughout my childhood, there was a piano in our house, which my mother played often, and on which I practised (irregularly) between piano lessons. And in my teens I started buying CDs; but I never really got in the habit of listening to them as regularly as my father listens to his. When I relax, I’ve always preferred silence; music interferes with my relaxing, or with my work. I sometimes put music on if I’m doing something repetitive or automatic, but it’s no good for other types of work; it just distracts me.

That, I suppose, is not all that odd. I know plenty of other people who seem to find the same. It’s just that they all seem to have more space than I do for music in other areas of their lives. At the pub quiz, I recognise only sporadic songs in the music round, and then only ones you’d expect anyone to have heard. I almost never go to listen to live music; I certainly very much enjoy nights like Acoustic Edinburgh when I go, or the Edinburgh Jazz Bar when it’s not too crammed; it’s just that if I had to pay for it, I generally wouldn’t bother. I’d rather spend my money on films and books than music. Dancing doesn’t especially interest me, and when people talk about going to some club because they have a particular kind of night on, they might as well be talking about baseball.

And yet, I was keen to see Camille O’Sullivan this year at the festival—and not just because she’s rather an attractive woman; the only reason I didn’t go is that I had to spend the money on something else. So maybe it’s just that I have very narrow tastes.

I think, in short, that music is for me what books are for people (like my brother) who don’t much read. But is that odd?

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