5. Music enriches the rest of your life

Music enriches the rest of your life – studying music with us will bring your enthusiasms into your work, and your study will enhance the things you value and enjoy.

You may have seen the television advert for cider which has been showing recently, which invents a story about how the invention of the cider in 1735 livened up a dull world in which no-one was having fun. The way the story is told, people were originally only allowed to listen to music – which appears really boring – until Lord Somersby, carrying his cider, slips on some ice and immediately invents … dancing!

The advert is very funny, and skilfully manages to give a whole history lesson, and advertise its product, in just 30 seconds. I guess, too, that it plays upon a common perception of music (especially “classical” music), that it is rather boring and doesn’t connect with the really exciting side of life.

The people who made the commercial don’t claim it to be historical, of course – they show a sign at the end with the tongue-in-cheek phrase, “unreal history”. But the good news is that the history isn’t just unreal, it is COMPLETELY WRONG, and finding out the ways in which it is so, so wrong is an exciting journey of discovery that studying music with us will set you off on.

OK then, let’s start with the idea that up to 1735 (I think the commercial really means, “in the Olden Days”), music was something people only listened to – decorously dressed, in quiet rows – at a concert. In fact, for centuries, music was something that people only ever made in combination either with singing or with dancing, and often with both. In fact, the idea of having a concert for ordinary folk, where people only played music on instruments, and the audience only listen, was a really radical departure, and it was this strange and new idea that someone came up with, ironically enough, at around the time that the cider advert pretends to be set.

This brand new idea, of selling tickets for just listening to music, was thought up by an out-of-work musician in London, and like many good ideas that occur to musicians, it came to him in a pub. His name was John Banister, and in 1672 he advertised tickets for the “George Tavern in White Fryers” to hear “Musick performed by excellent Masters.”

Banister concert advert, London  Gazette 26 Dec 1672

One of the people who went, and paid a whole shilling to hear the “excellent Masters”, later described the George Tavern as “a nasty hole”, and also describes the audience sitting round the outside of the room, drinking ale at small tables, while the musicians played on a sort of wooden stage, hidden behind a curtain. So the one thing that the cider advert has definitely got right is the connection between playing music and drinking!

It’s a good story – as good, I think, as the “unreal history” in the advert. And how do we know about it? Well, because the advert for John Banister’s concert was in a London newspaper. And we also know about it because someone who was there wrote down his “listening experience”, the sort of thing we are currently collecting and studying in our Listening Experience Database project. Looking at newspapers for clues about musical performances is something you will do if you take our new Level Three module, A342: Central questions in the study of music. So is looking at London in particular as a place which led the world in musical activity in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. There’s a lot more in that module besides, concerning singing, dancing and indeed just sitting and listening to music.

And what about disco dancing? Well, it gets mentioned across our modules, along with loads of other forms of dancing (such as the fourteenth-century Italian ballata, Scottish ceilidhs, or the scandalous waltz, banned everywhere in Europe in the nineteenth century). For instance, find out in A224: Inside music how the classic “I Will Survive” sung by Gloria Gaynor uses harmonies found over and over again throughout music history.

Actually, I don’t think we’ve yet had a student on our MA in Music who has written a dissertation on disco or Strictly – perhaps you will be the first!

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