With Japan’s Olympic games in full-swing I think about how differently sporting and musical achievements are rewarded. Athletes end up with shelves full of cups and medals from countless tournaments while musicians get… well what exactly?
Today is my birthday and I just want to say thanks for the gift of your continued attention by staying with me on this e-ride.
Musicians are generally not rewarded for excellence. No-one hands you a trophy after a particularly well-played set and no one stands you on a podium and plays the national anthem because you were the most entertaining act there that day. Rewards, if any, tend to be in the mind of the performer. And even then our greatest successes often pass by unnoticed: the audience may have been entertained to a life-changing degree but all you can think about is the song you screwed up and the joke that fell flat.
Just as I was thinking how unfair it is that sports performers are awarded at every level, I happened to hear an interview with Helen and Kate Richardson-Walsh. They both won gold medals playing hockey for Britain in the 2016 Rio Olympics. They talked about how, after finally gaining the ultimate success in sport, they found themselves back in London, walking by the Thames saying to each other, “What was the point of all that?”
The gold medals were somehow empty and meaningless and I felt strangely satisfied to hear them say that, once the hoop-la had died down, Olympic gold had not changed their lives at all.
And then I thought back to mid-July when Chris McShane and myself performed two days for a local project called UPLIFT. Our task was to entertain in a housing complex. All the people there were living with physical and/or mental difficulties and most have had a very hard time during the pandemic. We were guided from house to house and the people therein were invited to come outside so that we might entertain them from a social distance.
And guess what? (and I was more surprised than anyone about this) it worked! I’m not sure how I’d feel about being on the receiving end of such a project: depending on my mood I could well imagine myself locking the door and screaming through the letterbox, “Go away!” but we discovered most people to be receptive and, as I say, the results exceeded my expectations.
People came out onto their sunlit doorsteps to stand and chat about what kind of songs they liked while we did our best to think up something suitable. Between us Chris and I have a pretty extensive repertoire plus an even larger fund of half-remembered songs that required dragging from our collective memory. It was both challenging and fun.
Residents, cocooned and unseen for a year and a half, came out to listen and laugh. And the great thing was that they didn’t go back inside. They stayed to banter, and sing along, as we moved to their neighbours. After 3 hours we had created a communal atmosphere of release and joy. And there is no trophy in the world that could possibly improve on how I felt about that.
The smiles on those faces were our gold medals. They shone and reflected back to us the value of what we do as musicians. A reminder that, from the beginning, we have never been motivated by money or fame. Instead, we strive to use our art to change people’s outlook for the better. It’s that simple. All those hours spent memorizing songs, dreaming up ideas and practicing our instruments are all towards that singular aim.
And being there to see the wonderful transformation our music had wrought – in a project designed for that sole purpose – it felt like our version of winning Olympic gold. It was so affirming. We were both proud and amazed.
And we bow our heads to those who take the time and trouble to put on events so that committed performers like Chris and myself can do what we do. We can’t thank you enough for creating opportunities that we may practice our craft and strive for our highest musical goals:
Warmer, Kinder, Deeper