Communication is at the core of our society. Indeed, some would argue that it is what makes – or breaks – civilisation as we know it.
I’ve been thinking about the many and varied ways we communicate; the tools we use and how it evolves over time. One of the upsides of writing a blog is the pursuit of serendipity, a word I have loved for years. This extract from the Merriem-Webster online dictionary gives both an explanation and a background to it:
Serendipity is a noun, coined in the middle of the 18th century by author Horace Walpole (he took it from the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip). The adjective form is serendipitous, and the adverb is serendipitously. A serendipitist is
"one who finds valuable or agreeable things not sought for"
Finding value in things not sought for, to stumble upon. In the modern quest for efficient working and good time management we can easily so fully organise our lives, squeezing out the opportunity for serendipity.
Although I was decidedly not in the category of scholarly or academic when I was at school, I did love reading, and reading widely. (Which is another way of saying I avoided textbooks, but anything else that came to hand was welcome!)
Comics of all kinds were my staple, children’s books from the library, encyclopaedias (no online references then), as well as whatever newspapers and magazines were lying about the house. In the 60s our household was a Scottish Daily Express one, and I would read that, cover to cover.
One of my favourite columns was Beachcomber. This is Wikipedia’s description of it:
Beachcomber is a nom de plume that has been used by several journalists writing a long-running humorous column in the Daily Express. It was originated in 1917 by Major John Bernard Arbuthnot MVO as his signature on the column, entitled 'By the Way'.
The name Beachcomber was then passed to D. B. Wyndham Lewis in 1919 and, in turn, to J. B. Morton, who wrote the column till 1975. It was later revived by William Hartston, current author of the column. The format of the column was a random assortment of small paragraphs which were otherwise unconnected.
Living by the mouth of the Clyde, walks along the beach always include scanning for whatever the tide has washed in. My beachcomber traits are hard to lose! I assume that, by now, you have my link between serendipity and Beachcomber!
And so, a long-running interest in ‘eclectica’ has continued, with a particular interest in words, their meanings, and how they are used. Communications by another name.
I was reminded of this last week when watching a wonderful online concert by Duncan Chisholm, the Scottish fiddle player and composer. He is an outstanding musician with a long pedigree. His most recent concert was in the grand, and haunting, surroundings of an almost empty Glasgow Art Gallery at Kelvingrove, accompanied by the Scottish Ensemble, and a variety of guests.
In my February 2020 blog I wrote a piece ‘Transatlantic Sessions Leadership Lessons’ with little idea of what the rest of the year was to bring. The Transatlantic Sessions are a regular feature of the annual Celtic Connections concerts, the winter festival of traditional music held in Glasgow.
This year they have moved online, and although missing the obvious warmth and atmosphere of live events, the producers have done an amazing job of bringing us music we can savour, allowing it to soak into our hearts and minds.
One of the upsides of online concerts is that short interviews can be interspersed into the event, without losing the flow. Duncan brought some amazing insights into his work, explaining what music means to him. He quoted Dr Thomas Carlyle;
If you look deep enough you will see music; the heart of nature being everywhere music.
Here is a man who clearly loves his country and he talked about the beauty of how our natural landscapes inspire him. He explained how music can create great unspoken words in our minds, words that challenge and comfort, interwoven with our culture and heritage; reminding us we can trace our musical roots in a line going back over 1000 years.
And while we have a responsibility to nurture and preserve, we also have a duty to move our music and culture forward. “Innovation needs the solidity of the past”. Duncan believes we are experiencing a continuing growth, from a late-twentieth century flourishing of traditional music, to one that is pushing out to new frontiers – even if we are in lockdown!
Music remains one of my favourite forms of communication, often helping us express the inexpressible. As Aldous Huxley said,
After silence that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.
Stay safe, lead well