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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Musicking in Haren's Project X

So here I am, the day after the night before, sitting and typing. The kids were up early, and I went to bed late - we had to be sure that the riots which were part of the nonsensical Project X in Haren would not come our way. They didn't; instead of moving a couple of hundred meters to our front door, they moved a couple of hundred meters the other direction to centre village, making carefully sure that in the process  hundreds of inhabitants were sent into absolute fright and disgust and hundreds of thousands of community euros were wasted.

I am not going to reflect too much on the general idiocy of it all. It's a sign of the times, basically; a 15-year old girl makes a mistake on facebook inviting the general public to her birthday party, and directly corrects her mistake; but in our culture in these times it is the custom that someone who makes a mistake or is perceived to do something not as it should be done is taken the piss out of immediately; that's what's televised every day, and that's how we think things should be done here; so instead of smiling gently, we think it's funny to ignore the correction of the girl, her father and the mayor of the village, go to a non-existent party by the thousands, have a passive or active role in rioting, and then blame the authorities afterwards that they did not organise a party for us, spoiled brats, going to a non-existent party. 

Authorities are not to blame that they do not organise parties on demand. And as for the media reporting that some rioteers spoiled the evening for the innocent rest: there is no innocent rest. Everybody who went there by free will is guilty of what has happened.

But now the musical side of it. As I was watching the television last night, I couldn't help noticing the powerful presence of music in all the mess. In between live reports, music was broadcasted, as you would expect. But in the live reports music was there too all the time. People came to Haren expecting a party with live music and dj's, and, not finding it, demanding it ex-post-facto. People made their own party playing music on their car stereo kits. Drunk people  performed as the well-known football choirs as soon as a camera came in sight. Et cetera.

The most telling moment for me was when a live broadcast was sent from the square before the train station while people were running amok. Two girls of about 16 (I hope they were not yĆ³ur daughters) took position in front of the camera and started to sing "Happy Birthday to You". An innocent song, apart from the fact that the  innocence in the singing was just the surface of it - a thin layer of fun behind which you  felt the provocative, malicious and slightly threatening meaning of it all, reinforced by the noice of breaking glass and the sight of smoking firework.

It reminded me of a description I once read in a book on music and war in Croatia - "armed people victoriously entering Vukovar after shelling it during the two-month siege period, singing the verse 'there'll be meat, there'l be meat, we'll slaughter the Croatians'".

I know, my Sarajevan friends, there's no comparison between the post-Yugoslav wars of the nineties and a riotous evening in a wealthy Dutch village. But what I intend to say, again, is that music often is a beautiful thing, but it can be a horrible thing at the same time. And that is because, actually, as Christopher Small remarked, music is not a thing at all but an activity; something that people do. And therefore, music is just as beautiful and just as horrible as people can be. And we all know both sides of that.

And that, then, is also the answer to a little debate with some of my Facebook-friends about an article in a newspaper which argued that music obviously had so many proven beneficial effects on people that it should be taught as an obligatory subject at school. I agree, but I would like to add that music also has so many negative effects that it should be taught as an obligatory subject at school.

Music is not good, or bad. Music is neutral. 

But musicking never is.

Svanibor Pettan. 'Preface'. In Svanibor Pettan (Ed.), Music, Politics and War. Views from Croatia. Zagreb: Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Research, 1998, p.5.

1 comment:

  1. You have a very wise view on the matter, and makes me realize I never looked at music like that. And now, back to philosofie ;)