Dr Julie Carter

 

Writer

Friday, 20 May 2022 04:04

Songs of Springtime

In the early mornings the violinists practiced their scales before going out, not for coffee or food or work, but to find themselves guns and bullets before returning to the basements.

In one basement in Kyiv on the 9th of March, in among a maze of dusty pipes and valves, Illia Bondarenko played the Ukrainian folksong “Verbovaga Doschechka” and was joined on YouTube by violinists from 29 countries. “Verbovaga Doschechka” is a song of spring.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQSIeD-x6dQ

On the 23rd of March a cellist performed under a bright blue sky in Kharkiv amongst the rubble of bombed out buildings and someone responded; “It can’t be that dangerous if some guy is doing that.”

And a little girl, no more than ten, in a black jumper with huge silver stars on the front, with a voice that held the wisdom of ages, stood up amongst the crammed-in bustle of a bomb-shelter and sang “Let It Go” from “Frozen”. And all the people packed in the shelter immediately fell silent, and for two minutes everyone’s heart was beating together, and fear was not the impulse.

“The cold never bothered me anyway”.

And the violinists still play in-between the explosions because when a bomb explodes, they can’t hear their own sound. The vibrations of sirens and bombs ring through their bodies. Then they resume.

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And on the same day that Illia was filming in his basement, five Ukrainian Navy men in uniform stood in central Odessa and played “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” on a trombone, a French horn and three trumpets in front of a five-foot-high barricade of sandbags across the main road.

And Karina Manyukina cleared the debris off her white baby grand piano in her house in Bilia Tserkva and she played Chopin. And she played Chopin beautifully. Every window was shattered and glass shards covered the floor but not everything was broken.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Q0sKfua394

On March 20th a man called Alex in a black hoodie played an upright piano in the street in Lviv as the bomb-raid sirens rang out and tears poured out of him as he thumped the keys louder—to be louder than the sirens but the sirens sang on. The sirens became the voice singing to his tune and in those moments everything in the world was music. And next to him his suitcase on wheels, and people stood grasping their bags and rucksacks on the way to the railway station for shelter, then another hand joined his on the piano.

A Ukrainian soldier in a black flack-jacket also played the piano in the street while he wore a black balaclava with small holes for his eyes and nostrils and mouth—from which dangled a long white cigarette. He played “Nuvole Bianche” (“White Clouds”) but this was in 2016 and two and a half million people have seen his YouTube video but only the people in his street were watching back then and now it’s too late because the white clouds are black smoke.

“Let me suffer alone.”

“What happened to us—What I still feel like here”.

Are you still there, soldier? And were you really a soldier or were you a student of music or something else—what else soldier? What dreams have you kept alive?

Yesterday I went to Grasmere, a neighbouring village here in England’s green and pleasant land, and I gave a talk and read poems to the Women’s Institute and I stood up with them and sang “Jerusalem”.

“Bring me my bow of burning gold. Bring my arrows of desire.”

And I can’t sing well, and I don’t know how to play music. I don’t know a crochet from a quaver and a key is something I open the front door with and I don’t know Ukraine—I thought it was just a big mysterious place that didn’t concern me. But then I heard the concerto for piano and air-raid siren.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8zSB2-QuquU

And I sang together with the women, the words of William Blake,

“I will not cease the endless fight.”

To me Jerusalem isn’t the nationalistic patriotic anthem that it has been latterly repurposed as. Even music can be dangerous in the wrong hands. But this is Blake—the poet and activist—the man who was tried for sedition because of his views that English soldiers were slaves. It a song for change, with a history as a song of female suffrage, and always a song in defiance of the devilish forces which grind down the human soul in “dark Satanic mills”. Blake personified Satan as a miller, of grinder of the soul.

There is music everywhere and every note, whether sung or struck or plucked or imagined is a heartbeat, and the music goes on, and the killing goes on, and the killing won’t stop and the music won’t stop and there are no words for all this, there’s only music.

There’s a thrush outside my window, perched on a top branch singing and singing. It’s been doing it every morning for weeks, singing and singing and singing. And Illia Bondarenko and Karina Manyukina keep playing—because they must. Like the thrush music is in their nature.

We have woken up to hear the music. We were deaf before—deaf to the music of Aleppo, Crimea, Myanmar, Sudan, Xinjiang. Tunes we felt did not concern us or which we could not bear to hear. Every small act of compassion and generosity anywhere in the world, every hand reached out in friendship, is a note played.

And you might say that some music is hateful and that marching armies, commanded to murder destroy, also march to music. This is not music it is pomp. But a man with his suitcase next to him in the street turned bomb-raid sirens into music. Music whose heartbeat was not hate but tenderness, and desperately-clung-to hope. There are no words for all this—only music.

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