Music and the fight for freedom of speech

Tasmin LittleMon 19th January 2015

When our freedoms are challenged music reminds us of our deepest essence

I am writing this blog in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

So much has been written about this atrocity as well as the issue of what is at stake – freedom of speech. Although I had originally intended this first blog of the New Year to be about other things, I felt I could not write it without being heavily influenced by these recent events, and without paying tribute to the people whose lives have been lost.

The overwhelming response on the streets in support of our basic right of freedom of communication shows what an intrinsic need this is for most of us.  

For centuries, we have used words and music, art and dance to express thoughts, emotions, concepts and sometimes political protest or satire. Both author/composer and performer use their art form as a basis of self-expression and the audience as a means of connection to themselves and to others.

Our desire for freedom of speech is something that so many of us feel is worth fighting for. In fact, there are those who would say that, without our ability to express ourselves as individuals, there is little point in living. During the course of history, whenever there have been attempts to stifle or strait-jacket freedom of thought and communication, there have been brave people prepared to risk their lives in order to continue to express themselves and provide a platform for others to do so. Tragically, over the centuries, many have lost their lives in doing so.   

Before the atrocities, it was my intention to write about the Christmas period and the choices of music that people make in order to find meaning in a way that feels appropriate during this time of year. I began to ask myself why we listen to certain kinds of music in the run-up to the holiday period. 

I have noticed, over the years, that December is generally my quietest month in terms of concert performances. The repertoire that fills radio stations and classical concert halls is entirely different from the rest of the year - audiences want choral music (very specifically, but not only, Handel’s Messiah), Baroque music and carols, and their appetite for repertoire such as Beethoven or Ligeti violin concertos is greatly reduced. The general public also want carols and cosy, romantic songs of yesteryear which may promote a warm glow of belonging. You only need to go shopping in the run up to Christmas to find all the usual Christmassy songs, promoting warm feelings of goodwill towards mankind, sparkling with tinselly excitement, luscious string playing with plenty of vibrato and portamento, and sleigh bells. (The songs are predictably the same every year and there are some I always dread hearing - I have, for instance, been known to leave a shop when 'Stop the Cavalry' drones away over the speaker system).

Perhaps it is because many people wish to find something deeper within themselves at this time of year, in order to feel more in harmony with others. The many traditions, both religious and non-religious, that take place can provide comfort, a sense of familiarity and belonging. Some pieces of music inspire hope for the future, help us to reflect on the year past, and enable us to make resolutions for the New Year. 

At the end of each year, it seems that many of us seek and desire a greater connection to our spirituality, and to that deep essence of ourselves as human beings, capable of sharing thoughts and emotions together. And music, so often used to gather us together, has the ability to provide the path to the deepest place inside each of us.

Tasmin Little

Tasmin Little OBE has firmly established herself as one of today's leading international violinists. Tasmin won a Gramophone Award for 'Audience Innovation' in 2008.

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