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Elizabeth Kinder
Photo: Sophie Ziegler

The Elusive Ethnomusicologist

Elizabeth Kinder’s monthly column

Easter is passing by. In the preceding weeks, friends unnaturally (for them) refusing alcohol and or chocolate would ask, “Well, what have you given up for Lent, Elizabeth?” “Hope.” I’d say, pouring another glass and reaching for the Cadbury’s.

I’m finding current politics/events too depressing to contemplate, even with the legal chemical assistance of 14% Sauvignon Blanc and 70% cocoa solids to help me lower my gaze; to bring it right back from the big bad Trump/Brexit world, the Middle and Far East; from Russia and from the lightweights and idiots now running the asylum here and across ‘the pond’.

They firm my resolve to withdraw, to focus on life not just close to home but simply in it. From now on my community will be my nuclear family; husband, daughter, step-son and of course, Nellie-The-Wonder-Dog. And really if I was going to go the whole hog with the downsizing community thing on the grounds that everything is pointless, it would just be me and the dog.

And as I bolt the doors, the uselessness of my long-held aspiration to live a cravenly capitalist champagne lifestyle becomes clear. I might as well ditch the aspiration and just live it. So deciding to swap the wine for bubbly, I pull down the blinds.

Only I have to go out on Easter Sunday. To a gig at the Albert Hall. Happily there’s a champagne reception. Unable to pitch up with the dog, I go with my husband. The champagne reception is heaving. The entire place is heaving, jam-packed to the rafters for Show Of Hands. My husband wishes I’d come with the dog.

Straight off Steve Knightley takes us to Devon with Widdecombe Fair. Seemingly alone in the spotlight until Phil Beer aloft in the organ stall joins in on fiddle, it’s beautiful and dramatic. My husband’s glad he came after all. Then we go with Devon’s finest to the First World War, joined by Jim Carter’s deeply sonorous recitation of Rupert Brooke’s The Soldier – and we’re off, contemplating humanity’s hubris.

They remind us that hubris is not historical – that it’s in the here and now – through wonderful melodies and harmonies and gorgeous singing that never fails to uplift. How can just the two – or three of them with Miranda Sykes – create this extraordinary and rich depth of sound?

Imagine then the impact when they are joined by a choir from Devon and their Wake The Union band; first class musicians all, including Americans who perform exhilarating Appalachian dances. Yet whilst celebrating other traditions, they fête our own and a solo Morris dancer travels the stage.

The community singing starts four songs in. The opposite of the triumphalism associated with the Last Night of the Proms, tonight it’s about just joining in. It’s during a singalong to Arrogance, Ignorance And Greed that Knightley slips in a quick aside, “at least we’re all in this together.” And we are. I am in this place connected in a community, 5,000 strong. One beyond my home that’s reinforced through music which is making us recall the lessons of history. I wish they’d write a song about WWII and the holocaust. And then send it to the White House.

[That’s enough Show Of Hands… Ed.]

Elizabeth Kinder


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