Musical Fast

Giving up music for Lent seemed like a interesting thing to try, but as the days countdown to the start on Ash Wednesday, I’ve become to realise how difficult and inconvenient this is going to be. I did a silent retreat a couple of years ago as part of my research for Sonic Wonderland, but that involved going away to a Buddhist centre where intrusion could be avoid. My fasting from music is going to have to take place while I carry on my normal life as best as possible.

No music sign

I will be presenting a BBC Radio 4 documentary about my experiences that will be broadcast on the 16th of March. I will be exploring how ubiquitous music has become in modern society and investigating what effects this widespread consumption of music has on us. As part of planning the programme, my producer Nick has sent me a list of places where I might hear music. Some of the stuff on the list should be fairly easy to avoid, like film soundtracks, TV and Radio. But other musical sources are largely out of my control like ‘people whistling in the street’, ‘buskers’ or ‘ice cream vans’. I’ve just been on-line to order some more ear plugs and later today I’ll be recording a track of white noise that I can play on an mp3 player to block out music while out and about. I’ll also have to get my haircut before Wednesday, because finding a barber without music playing in the background is going to be impossible.

One of the debates that has been going on in my mind, is what counts as music? To be honest I’m looking for wiggle room so I can carry out doing stuff.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines music as:

“Vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) combined in such a way as to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion”

Are the Westminster Chimes that proceed Big Ben’s strike music? If yes, that rules out catching the first item on the 6 o’clock news on Radio 4. Having visited Big Ben, I certainly think the chimes are beautiful, they also have form and harmony, so I guess they’re music.

I won’t be able to play tunes on my saxophone for a month, but what about long note or scale practice? Certainly the only emotion I get from practising scales and long notes is boredom, but I guess the purpose of is to develop a beautiful sound. A friend yesterday suggested long notes were OK, but scales were not because they had structure.

Am I allowed to think of music inside my head as long as I don’t start humming it out loud?

If you gave up music for lent, what would you miss the most?