Today I’m grateful for Chopin.
My dissertation is about the historical development of the nocturne, and engages with both John Field and Frédéric Chopin. It considers the origins of the nocturne and examines the impact that both composers had on the genre. I chose it because I love Chopin’s music – his nocturnes in particular. When I started my research I had only vaguely heard of John Field, and had never listened to any of his music.
Way back in October, I had no idea what I wanted to write my dissertation on. I wasn’t sure that I really wanted to even do one, and certainly didn’t feel that I knew enough about anything to even contemplate writing an 8000-word epic. I stressed all summer and arrived at the start of the semester hoping for some divine inspiration. It didn’t really come. I made a list of uncertain possibilities and, in a spell of anxiety, expressed my distress to one of my lecturers. She invited me to discuss my ideas with her and, after much deliberation, Chopin emerged victorious.
The first piece of Chopin that I heard was his Nocturne No. 2, Op. 9, No. 2. It is arguably one of his most famous compositions and frequently appears on those compilation CDs that, I’m afraid to say, make me cringe. (Classical Chillout. 101 Best Classics. You get my drift.) I remember arriving to a piano lesson early and hearing my teacher playing it. I stopped stock still outside and waited, enrapt, for her to finish. At the same time I didn’t want it to ever end.
There was a kind of magic to this piece that captivated me from the word go. I felt transfixed, almost as if I was watching an event unfold and was utterly unable to shift my gaze. Each time I listened I came away enriched, uplifted and inspired. This piece sparked a love affair that has existed ever since. Whenever I listen to Chopin’s music I feel like I’ve come home, and fallen into the arms of someone blissfully familiar after the world’s longest day.
After living with my dissertation for this long, we have a love-hate relationship. It has challenged me every step of the way, and it has been a constant battle to stay optimistic. (Fortunately, my supervisor has been an absolute godsend and has managed to renew my faith every time I’ve felt defeated.) Some days I would question why I was even bothering, but then I would listen to the music. I’d take 5, 10, 15 minutes out and just listen to the music I was analysing, discussing and exploring. And then I would remember the ‘why’. My heart and soul would sing and I returned revivified.
Music has a unique power that seems painfully undervalued within our society. When we have politicians like Nicky Morgan pushing STEM subjects, suggesting that concentrating on the arts and humanities limits career choices and holds students back, it makes me want to weep. The government is sending out the message that art, music and the like don’t matter. That they’re not valuable. That they’re not worth serious study. Yet the arts enrich our lives so greatly and have such a tremendously beneficial impact upon our wellbeing, that to dismiss them in this way seems incomprehensible.
Think of your favourite song/piece.
Think of how it makes you feel.
Now imagine someone telling you that it has no value. That it is not worth your time, energy, emotion. What would you say? How would you defend it?
When I reflect upon my own life, music is a constant theme. My earliest memories include music by Supergrass, R.E.M and Oasis. Every significant family event has a soundtrack or a song that I can ascribe to it. And, during sixth form, piano was my salvation. I spent hours sat in the music department playing piano, feeding my soul, finding strength. Even now, as I reach the end of an immensely stressful semester, I am using music to calm my anxiety. To open the door onto another, calmer world…
I will always be grateful for Chopin. For music. For art. Will you?