Yvette Huddleston: Why music has the power to unite

Over the past several months there has been a piano in the concourse at Leeds station. Just next to the cash machines and opposite the numerous coffee shops and takeaway food outlets. Covering the piano are stickers in various languages inviting passers by to '˜play me'.
Grand Union Orchestra's composer/director Tony Haynes.Grand Union Orchestra's composer/director Tony Haynes.
Grand Union Orchestra's composer/director Tony Haynes.

Amid the hustle and bustle and steady human traffic of the daily rush hour, you can hear snatches of beautiful sounds, everything from lyrical classical music, to jazz, blues and honky tonk, played by a pleasingly diverse range of people of all ages and colours – all talented pianists, completely absorbed in their music-making.

On consecutive days I’ve seen a little old lady, carefully putting down her shopping bags before launching in to her recital; an intense-looking young man playing Rachmaninov; and a gifted child surely on his way to a career as a professional musician. On days when no-one is playing, I’m disappointed. What’s interesting too is to watch the faces of those stressed commuters as the music reaches them – they are momentarily lifted out of the mundane into another place, away from everyday preoccupations.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

All art has the power to do that, but music has the added bonus of transcending cultural and linguistic boundaries. Just before Christmas I was lucky enough to attend a concert by Grand Union Orchestra with SAA-UK Academy of Indian Music and the orchestra and choir of the University of Leeds. Musicians of many nationalities and musical styles came together for a performance of a specially written score on the theme of migration – it was an incredibly joyful and moving experience. Music-making brings people together, enabling those who have been through disruptive or traumatic experiences to channel positive energy towards change for the better. Great examples of this include West Yorkshire Playhouse’s weekly singing group for refugee women and a new choir for refugees and asylum seekers that is launching in Bradford this year. More than anything a piece of music can instantly remind you of a particular person, or transport you back to a place or time – we all have a Desert Island Discs list playing away in our subconscious. Sometimes it might be an era that comes in to sharp focus. For me, the embarrassingly uncool Wichita Lineman, as sung by Glen Campbell, rushes me straight back to my childhood and the mad getting-ready-for-school scramble, Radio 2’s Breakfast Show supplying the soundtrack, Terry Wogan’s jocular yet empathetic ‘pull yourself together man!’ as Campbell’s heartfelt crooning concluded. I’ve thought about that song quite a bit this week...