Tom McLeish, Physicist, Professor of Natural Philosophy, University of York, and oh yes, Anglican Lay Preacher

Music is really important. The Big Book of Magic Stuff and Harry Potter says so. But spare a though for musicians who are having a difficult time with the Invisible Magic Friend’s Holy Virus and Brexit. Oops, sorry, did I slip in a mention of Brexit? I don’t think anybody noticed.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/18OowIjZtXQu6vPaLtMlaZq54UgoJt034/view?usp=sharing

12 thoughts on “Tom McLeish, Physicist, Professor of Natural Philosophy, University of York, and oh yes, Anglican Lay Preacher

  1. This thought reminded me of the Greenberg challenge which asks that a TFTD should be genuinely informed by a faith perspective. In other words, a thought that could not have occurred without a faith perspective. I think not in this case.
    And although many people have missed live music this last 12 months I remembered an article from a few years ago that suggested music might not always be a good thing – https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20170210-why-happy-music-makes-you-do-bad-things. As most Christian music would probably class itself as “happy” this does pose some questions. Watching videos of churches where the congregants go into a trance like state while lauding Jesus, I have always found very creepy.

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  2. Thanks for the fascinating link, PaulT, which I read with great interest. I’m largely with you on the Greenberg test, too; McLeish didn’t say much about music ‘from a faith perspective,’ he mainly picked scriptural quotes which just mention musical instruments.

    I don’t agree with Jeanette Rowling’s Dumbledore opinion that music is a form of magic. I studied music at University and it is in fact very much a science, rather that art. Yes, we all have our preferred type of music, and favourite objects of hate (Perry Como?). But music has a structure comprising of numerous calculable elements, and in the hands of a skilled writer, certain anticipated results can be deliberately achieved. Listen to any film soundtrack (usually unnoticed, because it is doing its job). Appropriateness is key. Our ears would be jarred by the playing of, say “Entry of the Gladiators” as a bride entered the church; or by a troupe of cheerleaders prancing around accompanied by Wagner.

    The church has, on the other hand, inspired – and frequently commissioned and paid for – a rich heritage of liturgical music which ranges from the carelessly happy (‘Shine, Jesus, shine!) to the heart-wrenchingly sad (the last aria and chorus of Bach’s Matthew Passion, which I find so moving I can barely bring myself to hear them).

    Music can be anodyne (Richard Cleyderman(sp?)), annoying (the Birdie Song), stirring in a healthy or dangerous way (dance music, the Horst Wessel Lied); it can appeal to the analytical ear (Haydn – a personal favourite of mine), or tug at the heart strings (Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov) or stir the loins (a woman friend once told me that Brahms did for her what pornographic magazines did for men). No ‘magic’ except in a casually descriptive way; but both infinitely varied and calculatedly manipulating. It would be great to hear music live again; Leeds and Reading, yes, but also the Proms, Glastonbury, Glyndebourne, or your local Operatic Society doing some G and S. As for those harps and lyres McLeish referred to – we have absolutely not the slightest clue what sort of music was played on them, or on those pipes and timbrels; so no point in speculating whether it was ‘magic’ or not.

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    1. “As for those harps and lyres McLeish referred to – we have absolutely not the slightest clue what sort of music was played on them,”

      I may be totally mis-remembering here, but I think I saw a music documentary recently that seemed to be saying they had found some ancient Greek musical notation and had even figured out what it meant. I was amazed to learn that the Greeks even had written music.

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      1. Plenty of info on the subject in Wikipedia. The article “Musical system of ancient Greece” will most likely tell you all you wanted to know (and maybe stuff you didn’t as well).

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    2. I always remember those Magic Moments from Perry Como…
      It would be fun to go back and sit with our genetically similar biblical ancestors and listen to them singing bawdy songs with their harps and lyres while drinking the local wine, for that is probably what they did.

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    3. Our ears would be jarred by the playing of, say “Entry of the Gladiators” as a bride entered the church;

      This piece raises a genuine question about where the meaning exists in music. Is it inherent, or is it contextual? (I know it’s probably both, but this is an extreme example).

      Entry of The Gladiators was written as a piece intended to evoke images of warriors entering the arena, maybe for the last time. In this light it is a grand, triumphal piece, like Fanfare for the Common Man, a celebration of life and bravery.

      However, soon after it was written it was picked up and used ironically for the entry into the circus ring of the troupe of clowns. Eventually, this became where almost everyone knew it from. So now, as soon as you hear the opening notes, you are put in the mind of farcical comedy, wheels falling off, pies in faces.

      I have a particular anger at this. My team, Wigan RL, adopted this tune as their entry music before it achieved its comical status. It was a perfectly acceptable tune for the march onto the pitch of these tough men of rugby, gladiators in all but name. But with its later association, it was just fodder for opposing fans. “Here come the clowns”, they would laugh.

      So where is the meaning? Is it possible to still extract the old meaning, is there something in the structure and themes that maintains this? Or is the meaning entirely generated from its association?

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      1. I didn’t know of the Wigan R.I. association with this tune, but what you write is interesting. There is a huge question over musical association; why do we find music ‘happy,’ ‘sad,’ or ‘funny’? Extremes would include Chopin’s Marche Funèbre or Wagner’s Pilgrims’ Chorus from Tannhäuser, and the Waltz from Gounod’s Faust or Gottschalk’s Night in the Tropics. The Entry of the Gladiators should enjoy the same gravitas and martial pomp of any Sousa march, but has been hijacked by other associations – arguably Sousa’s “Liberty Bell” has been similarly scarred by its use as the Monty Python theme tune. This whole are of music is culturally interesting.

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  3. The bit that caught my eye was “(a woman friend once told me that Brahms did for her what pornographic magazines did for men)”. Questions such as how exactly did she mean/know…

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  4. One of the many things I have missed over the past year is choral singing. Weekly Zoom ‘rehearsals’, where you may be able to see a selection of your fellow-choristers but can’t hear anyone singing except yourself and the accompanist/backing recording, are not an adequate substitute.

    The choral society I sing with did Brahms’s “Ein Deutsches Requiem” a few years ago. If I’d known it could have that effect on the ladies, I’d have sung a bit louder.

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    1. You must have felt a certain ‘frisson’ in ‘Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen’! It’s pure schmaltz!

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