Monday, October 15, 2012

Saga of Jenny

Visiting a classroom of 7 to 9 year olds in Delhi last week, I was asked (amongst many other questions): what was my favourite song? My mind was wholly stumped at the time - though my appeal for Help! from my traveling companions had them suggest the Beatles!

My mind went blank because I was trying to think of something that an eight year old in a moderately poor district of Delhi might recognise and, of course, I stumbled. I should have simply said what it was (anything!) and then tried to give it a context (though that too might have been difficult). Alternatively, I could have gone armed with the ubiquitous Justin Bieber (who has indeed penetrated thus far) except I have no conscious knowledge of any of his songs (or having ever heard them)!

However, as I was leaving, my mind was whirring trying to find an answer and because it could not settle on any particular song, it was reminded of the dangers of making up one's mind and that led to the 'Saga of Jenny' - Kurt Weill's marvellous song here sung by his great interpreter, Lotte Lenya.


There are voices that are so extraordinarily distinctive and right for a piece that it is difficult to divorce them. This is such a one. For another it is hard to imagine anyone but Edith Piaf singing 'Je ne regrette rien' - indeed why would you want to? A signature has been made, inscribed on the vocal chords and on the audience's ear.

But it struck me how fluid this question of favouritism in music is - it appears so dependent on mood. If the question had been asked about any other art - I could reel off book, film, poem or painting with a degree of confidence in the stability of the choice but not for music. I could relatively quickly settle on my eight 'Desert Island Books' but be tortured into indecision about my eight 'Desert Island Discs'.

Music is often advertised as the art that unites. Is this because it transcends 'choice' (and judgement) and works on us at a wholly different level and only works in its own language? There is no possibility of translation: you are immersed and the possibilities of immersion are polyphonous, continuously shifting as you shift and change.

Of all the arts music is the most successful at evading fixity (or idolatry) and, therefore, is it the most imaginative?

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