Once again, a royal wedding, and we all wish the young couple well. But here’s a confession: as a musician I find weddings chastening and sometimes depressing. Musicians experience large indoor crowds mainly at concerts – where people sit quietly, pay close attention to the music, applaud when appropriate, comment intelligently afterwards, and generally give back in appreciation what they have received in enjoyment.
As a young organist drafted in to play at weddings, I was baffled by the crowd behaviour I encountered: noisy chatter during the prelude, rows of guests staring down in mute embarrassment at their service booklets during the supposed singing of the hymns, mass clicking of cameras as the choir performed its anthem during the signing of the register . . . what’s the matter with these people? I asked myself.
The realization dawned: they haven’t come for the music. They aren’t the self-selecting group of music-lovers you would find in a concert hall. They are a cross-section of the public, and they aren’t all musical. At the 2011 royal wedding, to judge by the acres of press coverage of frocks, guest lists, designer cakes, celebs etc, compared to the lack of any mention of the music, journalists are even less interested in music than the public they write for. At the event itself, I wanted to give a well-aimed kick to the prominent senior politician (he knows who he is) who sat slumped in ostentatious boredom as the combined choirs of Westminster Abbey and the Chapel Royal gave their inspiring all.
And yet . . . before I let my blood boil at the mass unmusicality and rudeness of the public, I think back to the football match I was taken to aged about 11. When it comes to sport, I am the equivalent of tone-deaf, and as the match at Wembley was played to the cheers of the crowd I experienced a boredom so intense I would have faked an epileptic fit just to be taken home so I could practise my scales instead.
We are all different. For some of us, a few bars of a Bach prelude are enough to open the door to a magical world, to others they mean no more than the revving of a lawnmower. Was Shakespeare right when he had Lorenzo in The Merchant of Venice declare ‘The man that hath no music in himself, Nor is not mov’d with concord of sweet sounds, Is fit for treasons, strategems, and spoils . . . Let no such man be trusted’?
That’s putting it a bit strongly, perhaps. Let’s accept our diversity, and enjoy the royal wedding each in our own way.