Joy amid pain – the ‘Arts’ in a troubled world

Music – aspirin for the soul?

They say people of a certain age should take an aspirin a day to keep illness at bay. Not advice I follow. My own remedy is a bit of singing or playing the sax, preferably both. In the world at large, joy seems in short supply at present. The news is all of war, death, disease, a world being pulled backwards into the morass by leaders with no moral compass. I could go on. The news clips of American public figures making a stand (the LA police chief, the Washington state governor) help a little but the real remedy, for me, is music. Spend a couple of hours in the company of Puccini and it all looks better. Run around a few scales, or better still, play some standards on the sax and it’s better still.

Feeling better or doing something – which matters more?

It sometimes feels like an abdication of responsibility to look after number one. I use the cliche consciously because it’s a reminder that we see ourselves as number one. Maybe that’s a good thing. If we can’t look after ourselves, we’re no good to anyone else. However, if we only look after ourselves then that’s no good either. As far as music is concerned, I would argue that other people we sing or play with also benefit – and our audiences too, we hope. That’s another reason to practise. But it goes further than that for me. If I’m energised by singing and playing, I can use some of the energy to do something. Write a play, finish the novel, petition my MP, whatever. Share ideas. Arrange a poetry evening. Provoke thought.

The ‘Arts’

All of this leads to the wider argument about the value of the arts as a whole. Consistently undervalued by politicians and economists, difficult to measure, the arts make a huge contribution to our society. And I’m not thinking here just of the top tier, visible arts, not even of the professional arts but of all the groups and individuals who write, play, sing, paint, sculpt and do all the other activities which form part of the arts. All these activities promote well being, all energise the participants, and all provoke thought and debate. All much needed, more than any need for an aspirin a day.

Tony Earnshaw

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