Recent events across the world – from the mosque killings in New Zealand to the ugly side of Brexit in the UK – will have moved and appalled us all, leaving us numb with a sense of powerlessness. The founder of London-based Grand Union Orchestra, Tony Haynes, believes that music can help.
What can we do to stem the rising tide of racial and religious bigotry? How can we help heal the wounds of a fractured society? How can we express our humanity, rather than anger and outrage?
We may not be able to intervene directly to any immediate effect, but we can at least present a positive vision of how the world might be a better place, through any means at our disposal. Culture and the arts, especially music, are privileged to be able to play a leading part in this cause – indeed, I would say they have an obligation. They can show people coming together creatively irrespective of heritage, language or religious persuasion; and they can express their experience and tell their stories.
This has always been a guiding principle of all my music for the Grand Union Orchestra, but now we are making it more explicit, adopting Music That Unites as a kind of slogan – a banner summing up the aim of all our work .
To begin with, here is a two-minute snapshot of a performance at the Hackney Empire in London, professional artists from around the world performing together with young musicians and a choir drawn from all the cultural communities of East London, exploring the theme of migration:
It’s important that our principles – and the GUO musicians’ special skills – are passed on to young people. This next snapshot shows this in action: 300 schools performers led by 8 Grand Union musicians (themselves first generation migrants) at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon, exploring the music of different global traditions:
These examples really speak for themselves, and need no further comment from me to make their point. So I’ve dispensed with my usual practice of explaining how the music was composed – although many of the individual numbers of which they’re made up are described in earlier Posts. However, here is one piece (described fully in a previous article 56) that expresses our limited influence as musicians – one of my most beautiful and poignant vocal ensembles:
But there is another way of putting it, and as usual Shakespeare had a word for it in The Merchant of Venice:
“The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils;
Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.”
We are fortunate to live in a country which abounds in ‘sweet sounds’. To create ‘concord’ among our varied communities, we must represent them all as performers, participants, audiences and above all in the content and subjects of our art. That is the responsibility of artists, and one way at least to confront and confound the ‘treasons, stratagems and spoils’ of those who threaten our humane society.