29 December 2015


Which do you prefer: disco music or traditional jazz? Regular readers will know well where my preference lies.

Quite a few years ago, when I lived in Wisbech, I volunteered to help at a disco for teenagers in the Great Hall of the Isle College (just inside those windows in the photo above). The din from the stage, on which the operators and their battery of equipment were placed, was unbearable. After a while, I decided I could endure the evening only if I took up a position in the corridor outside. Even there, if I wanted to exchange a word with anyone, I had to shout and then struggle to make out the reply.

Occasionally teenagers would run out of the hall into the corridor for a while, screaming, shrieking and sweating.

At the end of it all, we adult volunteers were left with the clearing up, after which I was truly glad to go home. I would never do anything of the kind again.

I was reminded of that evening while reading a book by Susan Tomes, a very fine pianist whom I admire.

She said in one of her chapters that amplification had 'become the main event' in much modern pop music and that the youngsters embrace this music out of a kind of tribal allegiance. I am sure she is right. These young people are in danger of missing so much if they never hear music played quietly by genuine musical instruments, unamplified. I hope they will in maturer years happen upon a recording of the Quatuor Mosaiques playing Mozart's String Quartet KV 590 or Tuba Skinny playing Cold Morning Shout and be amazed by a new source of great musical joy.

There must be some nuggets somewhere in modern pop music but I long ago gave up the struggle to find them. If you asked me to explain the deficiencies of this type of music, I could come up with a kind of list. But Susan is brilliant at putting her finger right on so many features of the music world. So here she is doing the list-making job for me:

     'You need only spend an evening listening to any pop radio station across the world to know that songwriters in all countries work to a formula. The same disco beat, the same tiny short phrases, timid harmonies, melodies culled from just two or three notes, real instruments replaced by electronic sounds, performers who can't even sing.....'!