Last night, at my Welsh class, we had a special lesson on the Welsh music scene, I suppose in readiness to celebrate Dydd Miwsig Cymraeg on the 9th of February. I am already a huge fan of the Welsh music scene. What was interesting was how Welsh music was presented by our tutor, but also how my classmates considered it.
I should point out that I’m talking about music in the Welsh language, which is a subset of Welsh music, which is all music made in Wales in any language. The tutor started by the common misconception of Welsh music as being: Male Voice Choirs, Hymns and other Welsh Christian devotional music and old folk songs like Pais Dinogad. What I’m talking about here is the contempory Welsh music of the last fifty years or so, which is what Dydd Miwsig Cymraeg celebrates.
So the tutor took us on a little tour through the history of Welsh music. What struck me was which musicians I was interested in and which I wasn’t as much. For we all have different preferences. I don’t know anyone with the same musical tastes as I have. I always find it difficult to answer the question of ‘What sort of music do you like?’ , because it would take so long to give a meaningful answer. It’s everything from renaissance polyphony to contemporary Mongolian throat music. So often I get pigeonholed as having eclectic tastes, sometimes that suggests that I am some sort of freak or that I purposefully seek the obscure. Yet that isn’t it, to me I just like music and when I really like a piece of music, it’s because it resonates within me, it touches me in powerful way. Not every piece of music does that, there are pieces of music that stir others souls that leave me empty.
Sometimes music grates your mind. I know that many people find this with anything tooloud or ‘too fast’ like metal or hardcore electronic music. Yet, for me it’s BBC Radio 2. If anyone puts Radio 2 on it drives me up the wall. Sometimes I’ll hit the auto-tune in the car, when an FM signal gets lost and hear a song I like, but very soon I realise that I’m listening to Radio 2 and feel sick. it’s the whole concept of ‘Easy Listening’ that is perhaps the extreme opposite of the ‘eclectic music’ person.
When you hear a piece of music for the first time, you begin your relationship with it. At first you might not understand it, but with every listen you learn more. Sometimes you’ll listen and suddenly that piece of music will hit you with everything it’s got, it might make you burst into tears or feel surged through with joy. With later listening you go deeper into the song and work out why it works as it does to you. Then you stop listening to it because there’s lots of other stuff to listen to. When you hear that piece of music again, it is also a reminder of your relationship with that song, so you either experience nostalgia, or an academic interest in how it relates to other pieces of music you know. I do listen to music occasionally for such purposes, but most of the time I’m looking for something new, something to take me to a new place.
So, I hate Radio 2 because it’s modus operandi is nostalgia, to play well known songs. But such nostalgia only works when it’s the songs you have had the relationships with, the rest of the time is experiencing songs you aren’t crazy about that you don’t have any nostalgia for and are not in a context to reference the music you are listening to now, so what exactly is the point? I love it when a good DJ drops an old song in that links with a contemporary piece, but Radio 2 drives me insane. It’s for the same reason that i am a Radio 3 person and not a ClassicFM person. Maybe I am just this eclectic person.
I suppose this eclecticness was why I put off learning Welsh for so long. The local Male Voice Choirs would keep singing the same old songs and we would sing the hymns in church that everyone knew. Church choirs have so so much frustration with congregations that want to same pieces of music every week that they know. We go , look, here are piles and piles of music we haven’t done, lets try some. So I kind of saw the Welsh language as part of old traditions and at the time saw thes traditions as stifling, when that is not their purpose. I love tradition and music, but not if it’s purpose is because everyone’s knows it or it’s unchallenging. It was when legendary DJ John Peel introduced me to bands like Melys, Gorky’s Zygotic Mwnci and Datblygu that I realised that there was this whole contemporary Welsh music scene, that was interesting to me. Really, living in England, what is so annoying and Radio2ie is that it’s incredibly incredibly rare to hear anything sung that isn’t in the English language. Granted there are masses and masses of great music in the English language, but there is even more outside of the culture of the English language and in Britain unless you actually try, you hardly ever hear singing in languages other than English, which is so sad.
The question I’m asking myself is why do I really like this seemingly unconnected range of music, yet I don’t like many to the things which are said to be similar. I know it’s not any inherent property of the music itself, the dots and lines. It’s just that some pieces of music stand out to me or some reason, that somehow mingles with how my mind works, what gets me excited, which isn’t a simple thing at all.
It’s not just music, it happens with everything. I’ve also found odd how I find certain women amazingly attractive and yet not others whom other heterosexual men find attractive. It’s just some people I just really like and others who don’t somehow create that sudden instant attraction thing in me. It seems not to be with looks, height, weight, race or anything easily measurable, just like with music and it’s dots and lines and structures. Sometimes you hear a piece of music for the first time and it’s like here we go, I know I am going to love this. It’s the same with women on meeting them for the first time you know that a tiny part of you will love them forever.
I think it’s just something, either in the music, or the words or in the performance that resonates with me, that I have found something I can relate to, like it’s somehow a part of me, but doing a different thing. it’s like discovering something where your mind doesn’t go, kind of like in ‘Where your Eyes Don’t Go‘ by They Might be Giants of part of your mind ‘wondering what the part that isn’t thinking, isn’t thinking of’ . These are things about myself I am not fully aware of yet, or that I’ve lost that I probably am only meant to have brief glimpses at. So if asked to describe what music I like, how can I answer when it’s about discovering the parts of me that I don’t know about yet. How is this a type of music? Is this why those of us who reluctantly accept the ‘eclectic music fan’ label, like music in a different way to most other people. Radio 2 is incredibly popular, but it’s not right for me at all.
Living in Electric Dreams – The Human League