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Writing About Music and Theater

Ella Jo discusses why she has chosen her subject matters.

In this post I explain why I think it is important to write about the theater and a rock show – examining their cultural significance.

There is a real life politician who would ban rock bands. (West Tyrone, Ireland). This is a revelation. At present I am writing a story about a dog who joins a band and plays rock shows. Is that bad? Plenty of people enjoy rock music and plenty of kids like to play air guitar now and again, even if they never bother to learn an instrument. The most base reason is that rock music is pure fun. Having recently watched a BBC docu charting the history of rock music, I think I gained a balanced view on the genre. It has been degraded in recent decades, but it is not dead.

I entertain the notion that most music is credible. It benefits the individual, (making it or just listening) and it benefits society as well. It is therapy, poetry, an outlet for anger and passion and much more. Music nurtures the youth and cradles the adult. It resonates deeply within each individual; your musical taste informs the world about you, and it makes for dancing!

As a music lover it seems natural to write stories about music and performance. In the world of insipid, competitive, shallow, farcical, celebrity culture many young people do not realize there is so much more to it. I am no expert, I just know that music was my crutch, and my inspiration, and it worked like therapy on different levels.

I am excited by music in an historical context. Such an ethereal substance is hard to measure and substantiate and bears controversy – I mean the idea that vocal harmony did not exist until the church invented it seems preposterous to me, yet this is believed by many.

Music and performance is art – an integral part of human culture. So I make no excuses for taking my characters to theaters and rock shows. If I must face bigotry it harks back from a Victorian age when actresses and singers were frowned upon for dressing up and wearing makeup – the connection with ‘working girls’ is obvious. I view it as a class issue. I understand how Puritanical and Victorian values have influenced English society. When these conditions dominate performing arts cannot thrive. Music and drama becomes distorted and smutty. In modern times the arts could thrive, if only the funding would allow.

My function as a writer is to preserve cultural life where music and expression is like cultural glue. It has a history, it binds, it attracts good things/people and bad things/people. It is a metaphor for life! I refuse to be embarrassed by harmless fun. I am perfectly aware of my responsibilities.

I believe that the history of music and folk culture is just as important as any other type of history. Unfortunately this ‘culture glue’ is not celebrated fully by the modern education establishment. School music in the UK tends to be religious – still singing hymns written in the 1800s.
Easter Passion Plays were amongst the earliest expression of drama in England. Ordinary people enacted the crucifixion in the streets. (1110 – The first performance of a miracle play in England given at Dunstable Priory). Before Christianity there must have been pagan rituals where Shamanic ‘acting’ bound people with natural events. Clearly today, we observe how dramatizing a story reinforces the culture, as in the school nativity at Christmas. However nonsensical, the children love to act. In the 11th century the Mummers plays introduced the new concept of doctors and war propaganda with the Saracens. This form of performance could have been discovered from Middle Eastern traditions of story-telling, interwoven in native traditions by the homecoming crusaders.(Hence St George- a Turkish figure makes his first appearance and is so thoroughly absorbed that he now signifies Englishness!)

The English seemed to have a rich, unfettered love of music and country dancing until the 1560s. The church clamped down on what must have been memories of pagan festivals, eventually eradicating them along with freedom of artistic (or any) expression. The Puritans (mainly from the 16th-17th Century) banned dancing and were strict about music, if they had it at all. Life was stuffy, uncomfortable and boring. I view the Puritans as fundamentalists who crushed the human spirit. No festivals, no outward expression of gaiety, they lacked generosity and spied on one another for religious misdemeanors. Superstitious and stupid, their restrictions must have been dreadful.

The theater survived (this was the time of Shakespeare) but many plays from that time have have been lost. Luckily the Puritans couldn’t keep it up for long. The world moved on and eventually the Morris men emerged, although there seems they had no place for women. As the industrial revolution began to destroy the old ways, Music Hall came into its own as singalong and sheet music was popular – it was commonplace to have a piano in the house. Classical music was well established by then, but seemed to be another marker of class as Empire building split the upper from the lower class in a different, but just as exploitative Victorian system.

We still have cinema which over took the music hall and still forms a bridge between modern cultures. Big band music kept peoples spirits up during the 2nd world war, then music went electric!

Pop music I believe is misnamed. It is popular folk music with its roots in American Slaves music. Recording technology captured Rock n Roll, then there was a songwriting explosion from the Beatles in the 1960s to the beginning of rave culture. After that I think pop music has been pulped by corporations and the original art form is lost in a commercial rampage. Popular ‘folk’ music is all at sea as the internet age tries to scramble a new format for true artists to be heard in the 21st century. (The West End/Broadway shows still run but very few ‘hit’ songs seem to emanate from them in recent years).

So for me, those decades from the 60s to the 90s make up an important musical heritage. My personal aim is to champion music in this form – with all of its variations.
Why it is good to be a musician
Creative thought – when composing tunes and musical parts, and writing lyrics.
Joining a band makes a person learn team work.
Playing to a live audience and recording – teaches self discipline, confidence and perfectionism.
When things go wrong – learning how to control ego and narcissism.
My reason for writing about Theater, Music and Rock Shows is to reflect the fact that music flows like a cultural spring, that it stimulates personal growth and is pure fun.

So no apologies to the prospective MP of West Tyrone. It appears that she would throw gay people into prison as well. We should cover her in chocolate and leave her up a mountain until she can laugh at herself. Thankfully she is in the minority. I am free to weave my stories around precious cultural icons that survived the Puritans and the Victorians and that are bound to be re-invented for a future fated to be influenced by technology. Or maybe not. Humans are strange, there are still brilliant buskers and genius musicians who would rather play around a campfire in a field.

We may yet be driven back to the roots of street plays and old fashioned story telling. Whatever happens, my characters will be there, howling, yodeling and rocking out with pure joy – even in West Tyrone.

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