Music is what feelings sound like...

I thought Danny Boy was a traditional Irish lament. I discover that the words were written by an English lawyer who never set foot in Ireland. The melody, Londonderry Air, is apparently authentically Irish. The air is also used as a hymn, and for the inspirational song “You raise me up”. In any case, it was much sung in Scotland when I was growing up, mainly by very drunk people. It came to be associated in my mind with the thick, unmelodious emotion of drink, that seems to make people think they can sing and at the same time make them want to sing as loud as possible. I left Scotland geographically but probably never left it emotionally and for years I sang too loud. Everybody told me I sang too loud; I kept telling myself to sing quieter, and inevitably I would start out singing quieter and then get carried away with the music like the bear in the Jungle Book and end up screaming.
I seemed to be trying to communicate, in written or sung words, to some mysterious almost unattainable entity. I also assumed this was because I had spent my first night on earth stuck in a linen cupboard.

When I moved to Samatan, there was a jazz pianist wandering about the town in dressing gown and slippers. He was coming to the end of his life, and died shortly after I arrived. The local café owner played me a CD of his music. A jazz instrumental version of Danny Boy.
At secondary school I went out with a boy called Danny and he wanted to have sex with me and I was a virgin. He asked me if I wanted to wait till I was married and I said no, not necessarily, just till it “feels” right. He went out with somebody else. I think of him occasionally.
I used to sing with my alter ego in primary school. Dressed as robots one Halloween we sang Sonny and
Cher’s “you’re the ladeeeeee” – I was Sonny and she was Cher. Anyway, she has had more than her share of tragedy, and recently her son joined the Scots Guards and went to Afghanistan. Thankfully he has just completed his tour of duty. His name is Danny.
I started to get fed up with the piano exercises my prof was giving me, looked on the internet for beginner level sheet music and found Danny Boy. My maternal grandmother was a weekend singer in a skiffle group. During the war she worked in a munitions factory, and later became a nurse. When she died, at roughly the age I am now, she had just started taking piano lessons.
So when I set about deciphering the notes of the song on the keyboard each one was so charged with emotion I almost broke down and cried the first time, especially when the melody goes up into the high notes. I found myself trying to hit them as hard as I possibly could, as if there was a correlation between emotional charge and physical force. Is that why Jimmy Hendrix set fire to his guitar?

Why am I doing this to myself I wondered. It was a kind of torture. It reminded me of my mother breaking down in the middle of a song her mother used to sing and saying she just couldn’t do it. I kept on playing it, once a day. The melody began to fall into place and I stopped crying. I spoke to Françoise, who reminded me that singing the blues means singing the blues away. The idea is that music lifts your mood. If you stick with it long enough.

These trees were decorated by Denis Martinez, an Algerian artist who lives in Marseilles. I saw a wonderful video of him drawing on the sand in the desert, with the wind erasing his work almost as soon as he had done it.

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