Thursday, 21 April 2011

Unexpected joys

One of the perennial pitfalls of being engaged with any aspect of campaigning, or working in other ways, to change the world (or, at least, some aspect of it!) is the tendency to become so completely focussed on the wrong that one wishes to right, that the pleasures and delights of the world get relegated to the background. Allowed to continue for too long, this is a sure recipe for the dreaded 'burnout' - fatigue, depression, disengagement, world-weariness . . .

The antidote (if you'll forgive the Pollyanna-ishness) is joy and gratitude for the gifts and delights that are all around.

And I received one such unexpected gift in the small hours of Monday morning. I should have gone to bed long before, but I was still at the computer long after midnight . . . and an email arrived from the totally wonderful Norwegian Institute of Recorded Sound. This is a public body (in the city of Stavanger) that is now the custodian of an extensive archive of recorded music. Its goal is to document the interpretation and performance of music in European 20th century culture through its recordings. The old recordings are being digitised, so the original physical recordings can be preserved, and the digitised versions are made available to the public in a variety of ways.

I first happened upon this organisation towards the end of last year, but I can't now recall how or why. However, what I discovered was that the staff were distributing daily links to a series of recordings (both voice and instrumental) of music suitable for Advent and Christmas - in other words, a musical Advent Calendar.

I signed up, providing my email address, and each day through Advent an email arrived with a link to a sound recording. It provided me with four weeks of pleasure - a moment in each busy day when I stopped and listened to a piece of music that had just been given to me. Many of the recordings are from old 78rpm records, complete with all the hisses and crackles, and bringing a sound that is clearly from the past - not just the scratchiness, but a style of singing and voice production utterly different from what we are used to hearing now.

I knew that, now they had my email address, I would receive the links again at the end of this year, for Advent 2011.

But today, a suprise - they've decided to make available a series of recordings for Easter, and the first link arrived during my later session at the screen, unexpected and unannounced, and doubly pleasurable as a result. They write:
"Throughout Easter we will publish arias, choruses and orchestral pieces from Handel's Messiah on our web site. All the music clips presented are from the same recording, which was made in London in 1906 and released on 78 records in various editions since then."
We have perhaps got used to hearing Handel's Messiah at Christmas, but it is not really Christmas music. Its theme is the whole sweep of God's relationship to humanity, exemplified by the prophecies, and the life and death of Jesus. It used to be the case that many amateur choral societies would perform Part 1 of the oratorio at Christmas and Part 2 at Easter.

And all the work of conserving, interpreting, disseminating, is offered freely (political note here: public services are wonderful!). They have a 'donations' page on their website . . . it's for recordings, not money!

You can sign up to follow them on Facebook, or you can email the Director, Jacqueline von Arb at
to receive the links to this Easter's music, and whatever other delights they send out in the future. You can find all the Advent 2010, and all this Easter's links on their exhibitions page.

A small political ps: Norway can afford its excellent public services because of its substantial oil wealth. In the UK, the revenues from North Sea oil and gas were, scandalously, frittered away on tax breaks for the already well-off, and other purposes, and they weren't invested. The Norwegian government is investing its oil revenues in renewable energy infrastructure - so, when the oil runs out, Norway will be ok. Unfortunately, everyone else gets to burn their oil in the meantime, adding to climate change. It's a bit like the game in the radio comedy panel game I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, in which the panel members alternate with 'the good news . . . but the bad news . . . but the good news . . . but the bad news . . .'
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