“why is it that we are unable to say – as we must have expected to say – Poor Miss Marsalles? It is the Dance of the Happy Shades that prevents us, it is that one communiqué from the other country where she lives.”(1)
Perhaps it is not even that outrageous, the fact that I secretly consider them as urban angels. After all, amidst the urban stress & struggles, they do are messengers from another country, a country where harmony rules. I’m referring to musicians here, musicians travelling about town in particular, transporting their instruments, carrying cases betraying the form of their instruments.
You can sometimes spot them, struggling to get on the tram through narrow doors, cautiously handling a bulky black case with the sensual contours of, say, a double bass. Or you can see them cycling, one hand on the handle-bars, another hand used to balance their instrument. Some musicians can move around more discreetly, clutching an elegant violin case, or one of those slender oblong cases that leave the on-looker guessing: maybe a clarinet?
They always look happy, or perhaps it’s me, always imagining musicians to be happy, having their music. In any case, they always console me, these messengers from another country, magically removing all cares & perplexities, like a sudden happy whiff of Mozart drifting through the air.
So what a marvellous otherworldly gift it was for urban flâneurs of all stripes, this joint initiative of three musical organisations (2), to have musicians & ensembles popping up & playing at unexpected venues in the city : a shopping arcade, a swimming pool, a home for the elderly , a cellar, ….
The lack of decorum gave a paradoxical, moving intimacy to the music, creating a secret understanding between musicians and listeners. None of the classical musical rituals or dressing codes, only musicians and their haphazard audiences, grateful for the unexpected enchantment.
Leaning against the wall of a shopping arcade, I was captivated by the joyful intensity of four young people so manifestly enjoying making music together. Tourists & shoppers were flowing by, audiences formed and dissolved while the music worked its wonders. Only the security guards remained impassive, dutifully scrutinising all passers-by (a by now familiar sign that not all is well in the world).
Musicians never seem daunted by ordinary language problems. The Japanese double bass player put up quite a show with just a couple of French words and an immense talent on the contra-bass, the Japanese and European pianist duo played a vigorous quatre-mains without need for translation.
Neither were the musicians taken aback by their irregular audience in the old-fashioned chapel of a catholic home for the elderly : lavishly adorned wooden statues of saints &martyrs, blissfully smiling painted angels, silently staring exceedingly old people in wheelchairs, still vigorous elderly people oozing loneliness (poignantly excited by the unexpected excitement), young families with kids, hipsters, ...
And then – a concert in an indoor swimming pool, on the third floor of an inner city building. Climbing the stairs I heard vague intimations of paradise - the deep sounds of faggot & contra faggot, the alternately mellow & pizzicato sound of strings. But little was I prepared for the magical marriage of music with the echoes & smells of an indoor swimming pool. The melodies gracefully bouncing off the water & the walls. The melancholy vision of musicians on a raft in the pool – their graceful silhouettes against the Brussels sky.
So yes, what a blessed gift, what an amazing grace it is, this reminder of music & harmony in an imperfect world.
(1) Alice Munro – dance of the happy shades
(2) United Music of Brussels (Belgian National Orchestra, La Monnaie, Bozar)