“…stratagems and spoils.”

May 25, 2021 09:24
Photo: Reuters

“If music be the food of love, play on, give me excess of it” said Shakespeare’s Count Orsino in Twelfth Night. Sadly, the Hong Kong government is tone deaf.

The music of which Shakespeare wrote was live music, played by living musicians, not the pre-recorded variety pumped out over a speaker system or streamed from an electronic device.

Those who have ears to hear and a capacity to enjoy the engagement that is consonant with physical proximity to music played by a skilled musician, can vouch for the extra dimension of pleasure to be derived from this experience.

At a fundamental level, the rhythm communicates itself, not just through space but via the ground. The description ‘foot tapping’ aptly describes the manner in which we react to this sensory messaging.

Recorded music’s highest aim is to recreate the sound of the instrument heard in the locus where it is being performed, sufficient testament to the human desire for recreating that direct connection.

An aspect which is often overlooked is the visual effect of observing the performer. I am entranced watching Jacqueline Leung, one of Hong Kong’s outstanding concert pianists, who communicates her feelings by way of her body language as much as the exquisite sound of the notes that she plays.

This physicality is particularly important in the case of vocalists. A singer may have a melodious voice but if it is delivered from an unemotionally transfixed figure emulating a guardsman outside Buckingham Palace, so much is lost.

The performer’s delivery is a person to person communication; an audience made to feel that the song is for them, shares the music in an incomparable way.

The musician, whether by instrument or vocal chords, expresses a full range of emotions, reaching out to the listener so that he or she feels them too.

This engagement of so many cognitive faculties is peculiar to live performance and is something that the restrictions of Covid-19 has deprived communities.

The sharing of which I spoke, as between the musician and the listener is not the only important communal aspect of live music because there is also the intangible but no less real sense of communication as between the members of an audience.

Music has the power to stir emotional responses within a group, whether the comfortably select audience in a jazz club or the massed ranks of soldiers on a parade ground.

A common enough sight is of total strangers turning to their neighbour to share, perhaps by nothing more than a smile, recognition of a moment of sheer delight in the perfection of a performance.

Music, especially live music, has therapeutic powers.

In the context of the restrictions imposed on communities by the exigencies of social distancing and defences against infection, the ban on live music has deprived human beings of the balm that it confers, with particular regard to the depressing psychological effects.

The economic devastation wrought, most of all amongst workers in the gig economy, is only marginally appreciated and in Hong Kong this group of workers has suffered more than any other.

That tiny minority of enlightened hospitality industry employers who passed on the government’s miserly handout to their staff, were a glow worm in the black void of greed that personifies commerce in the S.A.R.

Last in the queue for any form of succour are the musicians. Why is it that a class of people whose profession is to give pleasure to others should be singled out for such condign punishment?

Whereas I can, just, see the rationale in prohibiting the playing of wind instruments lest they release contaminated breath into the air, what earthly justification can there be for banning the pianists, guitar, violin and other string instrument players?

How can that particular form of torture, karaoke, be permissible but a professional singer or wind instrument player behind a Perspex screen be banned?

It is illegal to discriminate against someone on the grounds of sexual orientation, age, ethnicity, religious persuasion or skin colour but musicians are considered fair game.

I have no affiliation to any political party. As regards government’s shameful treatment of musicians, on behalf of the members of this great community of musicians here in Hong Kong, Lorenzo’s words in The merchant of Venice has it summed up succinctly:

“The man that hath no music in himself, Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils; The motions of his spirit are dull as night, And his affections dark as Erebus. Let no such man be trusted.”

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King's Counsel