Thursday, September 15, 2011

Music as Music Was Meant to Be

One of the highlights of my year is going to the U.S. National Mòd, a competition of Scottish Gaelic poetry, storytelling, and song, which is held each September in Ligonier, PA. After an intense weekend of fellowship, friendly rivalry, storytelling, music, music, and more music, I come home feeling refreshed and enthusiastic, not just about Gaelic but about life. What happens at the Mòd that produces that effect?

Well the Mòd isn’t just a competition; it is a gathering of enthusiasts of a rather specialized subject. And though the competition is stiff, it is the enthusiasm for the subject that carries the day. That alone is something to be treasured. We all need enthusiasm, but enthusiasm in isolation is a rather dull thing. And competition without camaraderie might feed the ego, but not the soul.

There is also the pleasure that comes from live entertainment. The competitions are worth hearing in themselves. I always have a couple of non-Gaelic speakers with me. All of them have wanted to come back again. They even enjoy the story telling. Live entertainment has something that listening to a recording will never have: That is the presence of the person of the entertainer and a spark of interaction between artist and audience.

What I enjoy most about the Mòd is the cèilidhs, both official and unofficial. A cèilidh is a social gathering with an exchange of music and possibly storytelling and dancing. The music at the cèilidhs is good and the atmosphere is fun. Many of the songs people choose have choruses that the group can join in on. This is entertainment as entertainment was meant to be: alive, personal and in community. This is how human beings enjoyed music for thousands of years.

Today we can listen to what ever we want, whenever we want. Don’t get me wrong, I like to be able to do that. But in the old days when people wanted music they made it themselves, or gathered together with other people who made it. Perhaps the music wasn’t as good as a professional musician can make it, but I believe it enriched them in other ways that we are often missing in the modern world.

I think that is why I come home from the Mòd refreshed. Music always refreshes my mind, but music given and received in community with others—as music was meant to be—refreshes my whole person.

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