For years there has been a piece of music with a sort of Arabian feel; a piece which creates an atmosphere, which has a silkiness and an air of mystery about it; but being unable to sing, hum, or whistle in tune, it has not been possible to ask anyone else if they know it.
A similar sense of not knowing used to surround a piece that we heard every holiday; Brittany Ferries wakens those in its cabins not with an alarm call but with a gentle piece of music. The best I could have said was that it sounded like a waltz, a piece that would have carried you around the floor, if you were able to dance (a skill, which along with music, that has evaded me). Driving a country road one afternoon, Lyric FM revealed the piece as being from Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite, otherwise its identity might have remained forever unknown.
Unable to recite a single note of music, it is impossible to express a tune. There are sounds in the head, but no means whereby those sounds might be expressed in any meaningful way. It is like having thoughts without words; feelings that defy any articulation.
Standing in a school office while the photocopier produced worksheets from a text book, there was the realisation that the worksheet was nonsense; its vocabulary so difficult, its concepts so alien, that it could be an orchestral score presented to someone who had not yet managed the paper and comb. The language of the religious education textbook is a foreign script to the group to be encountered in the classroom.
Sharing thoughts with the school resource teacher, the person responsible for facilitating the development of literacy and numeracy, and those other skills assumed by a system that is devised by middle class graduates, there is agreement on the need to find some other way of communicating beliefs.
The church has shied away from the old country customs, the traditions in which people acknowledged that there were powers and processes beyond their understanding. When joining in the saint’s day observances in a small rural community, my observation that the people’s rituals were pre-Christian was met with a muttered rejoinder from the visiting bishop, ‘pagan!
However, those customs, visible, tactile, physical experiences, communicated with generations. In a post-literate society, the cerebral, intellectualised faith of books is an inadequate form of trying to express what it is we would wish to convey; it is like trying to sing a tune when you have no music.