Interview on Music, Muzak, Noise, Silence and Thought
Gillian Weir in conversation with Jonathan Rennert. An exclusive interview on Music, Muzak, Noise, Silence and Thought.
“She's incredible. I've never heard anybody speak so quickly for so long, almost entirely without hesitation or repetition, and apparently without taking breath!” So said the typist who transcribed this tape-recorded interview with Dr Weir.
In fact, the 32-minute tape produced a text of over 6000 words: an average of 195 words per minute, or over 3 words per second, non-stop. It included so many ideas and (in my opinion) so much good sense, that the editor agreed to reproduce it here almost in full. But first, enormous thanks to our highly articulate Vice-President Gillian Weir for sharing her ideas with us; and many thanks also to Club member Barry Wilson for making the recording.
JR: Gillian, do tell us what happened in Salisbury's, the handbag shop.
GW: I was trying to look at the bags and it was really impossible because the noise was so tremendous coming from the speaker system. The awful thing about this kind of system is that the music has no one source. It simply assaults you from every direction and I found it seriously disturbing. It really makes one feel extremely unhappy and the worst thing about it is that even when one's got away from it the sound goes on. It is like having the brain and the ears muddied by something and you can't even clean it off. So I asked the manageress could she do something about the noise please, like turn it off, preferably, but at least, down. She said “What noise?” which is what most people say because they have got so used to its being there all the time that they don't register that it's there in their conscious mind. So I pointed to the speakers and she said, oh, well, the customers like it, and I said, have you asked them? and she said no, with that wary look that says ‘we've got one of those’ and I said, let's ask them. So I turned to the woman nearest to me and I said, are you enjoying this ‘muzak’ and she said “What muzak?” So we went through the thing again and she said “No, I hate it” and I said, thank you, the manageress here thinks that you like it but we've registered that you hate it. I do too. So I turned to another woman and said, are you enjoying this muzak? and she said “What muzak?” and I said this from the speakers, and she said, well, I don't really mind. It's everywhere isn't it? You just have to put up with it. So I said, well, that doesn't register as wanting it, then, and she said no, but some people like it. I suppose we just have to put up with it. And I asked why, and she said, what do you mean? and I said, well, it's not an act of God, you know, why should one have to put up with it? Surely if you put something consciously in your shop it's there for a conscious reason to please or to try and make people spend money. Of course, that is the actual agenda of the shops themselves. It's not to make people have an enjoyable time, it makes them stay longer and buy more. But how absurd that the reaction of people should be that it's some kind of natural phenomenon that you have to have. And so it went on. I asked about four people and then the manageress came back with the address of Head Office of Salisburys for me to write to and I left the shop, having told her that we'd had this small poll and it didn't t bear out that anybody wanted it. They were busy so I didn't take up any more of her time.
JR: Of course it is scientifically proven, isn't it, that shoppers will buy more if they have a certain type of music on in the background and that cows will produce more milk if they have a certain type of music.
GW: Yes, when the Muzak Corporation – (muzak has become a little bit like the word biro. Biro, of course, was a brand name and it became associated with ball-point pens to the extent that people called all ball-point pens “biros”) – but the Muzak Corporation, when it was first founded, had psychologists and musical experts on their staff and they tailored the music to the requirements. For example, if you wanted to hurry people along through Waterloo station in the morning you played marches, which was busy music and got them going. Why not? You wanted people to stay longer in the supermarkets because the longer they stayed the more they were likely to pick up, or their children would pick it up and tear it open and then the mothers would have to pay for it. So they had quiet, soothing music. But, what happens now, now that that no longer works, is that people simply turn on the nearest radio station and that will virtually always be something with some form of rock because now a rock beat is fitted to almost everything automatically. For example, “My Fair Lady” now has appeared in a version with a rock beat fitted to it. The reason for this is that it is hypnotic and addictive, and so the addiction breeds more addiction in the sense that everybody expects it's essential to have it. They now have an automatic feeling that it's not ‘hip’ enough, it's not ‘with it’ enough unless it's got it.
JR: You mention the mechanical beat. There is also the question of the high volume. Do you think that possibly the general background noise in the world altogether – traffic noise and so-on – itself causes the music to be louder and therefore people's expectations of music to be louder?
GW: It's a spiral. It's simply a spiral because people are pretty deaf now.
JR: That's an important point.
GW: They are deaf in two senses. One, they really are physically deaf, many of them. Half-an-hour's exposure to the level that's heard in a night-club in a rock environment does cause permanent hearing loss. And they are also deaf, and this concerns me more really because I keep away from places that are going to destroy my physical hearing, they are deaf spiritually and in terms of awareness. In order to survive with the noise level that the world has, and I agree with you it's all kinds of noise, of course we have to shut it out to some extent. It's particularly bad news for musicians because every single minute of our training is in awareness to the most tiny nuances and subtleties of sound. The more subtle we are, the more service we are giving to the music, but people are hardly able to determine those subtleties any more. Which is why Pavarotti singing at the top of his voice to thousands and thousands of people in a stadium with a crescendo at the end of every piece excites people because it's the only way to get through to many of them. To hear the tiny nuances in the different interpretations. say, of Debussy, of Charles Dutoit and Pierre Boulez and Claudio Abbado is almost impossible because you can't get people's attention.
JR: So you are saying we are getting less sensitive. There is also an argument that rock music causes aggression.
GW: Yes, rock itself there are several problems. One is the noise level, yes. of any music but particularly rock.
JR: Of course we are organists. Do we have a right to complain about noise?
GW: Somebody said that to me on a train once and I said I belonged to a noise abatement society and then we chatted and she said, what do you do? and I said I was an organist, and she said, what a very strange thing to be for someone who belongs to such a society, but organs are not loud all the time. They get louder and softer. That's the point. But the second point is the hypnotic beat. This began in the jungle and it was used with great intelligence and for a specific purpose by the tribes that employed drum beats of a hypnotically regular nature. It's used to excite the flow of adrenaline to raise the speed of the heart-beat and it also raises the blood pressure and it produces, in other words, the “fight or flight” syndrome.
JR: But that's rather different from the synthetic beat that you're talking about in rock music because at least you have a pulse in real drums, you have the feeling of loud and soft.
GW: Well, I don't know. It's the number of times to the minute that matters. Anything over ninety to the minute, I am informed by medical practitioners, raises the blood pressure and has this effect. So it's partly the loudness, partly the number of beats to the minute and that is the hypnotic nature of it. Now, when you are actually dancing on the dance floor you dissipate the huge aggression that is raised by this tremendous flow of adrenaline. So it doesn't matter too much. But if you don't have that outlet then you are over stimulated with no possibility of releasing the chemicals and so on that are raised by it. And so, what do you do? I sent you, I think, the newspaper cutting after the so-called Poll Tax Riots in London where people apparently stamped on cars and burnt them and all that and they asked one of the young men why he'd done this and he said “Well, actually things were going a bit slowly until one of the people from a band started drumming in the crowd. Then we were able to get going. It was great. It was powerful. It produced power and we were able to do things like lift heavy metal bins, and so on, and throw them at people”. He found this terribly thrilling and exciting and I wish somebody would realise what exactly he said and the tremendous importance of what he said. So, the problem is that when you have rock from the moment you wake up in the morning 'til you go to sleep, or worse – I have been in hotels where it came in under the door, and it swam across the floor and got into bed with me – then you are constantly over-stimulated and you are, in effect, hypnotised by this thing, and there is no question but that it produces addiction.
JR: Or does it just provide a sense of security?
GW: That is the same thing. That is what an addiction is. You are not safe without it.
JR: Do you think we speak more loudly as a result of all the noise around us?
GW: Well, sometimes. In one shop some years ago, before it was nearly as bad as it is now, (but it was just the fact of any music when you are trying to talk to somebody being irritating because I like to concentrate on one thing at a time like anybody that's trained to listen,) I got fed up with trying to shout above the music to the assistant and I whispered “Do you have a size 12” and she said “No, but we've got a size 10” and I realised that she was lip-reading. So, the communication through sound is becoming, ironically perhaps, extremely difficult because of the overwhelming amount of sound which is now in the form of noise all the time.
JR: May we go back briefly to the idea of music's role as a manipulator. Plato pointed out the possible bad effects that music might have on people. Stalin used music, or tried to get control of people's minds through music. The church has used music for hundreds of years to try to help our minds comprehend great religious truths. Is there anything necessarily wrong with the idea of shopkeepers trying to persuade us to buy more products by putting on music?
GW: Only if you think that it is wrong to be manipulated. There is a famous book about the power of advertising called ‘The Hidden Persuaders’ which tells you just how you are being manipulated. In fact, there has been so much over-kill in the way of advertising that many people are now so cynical that they resist most things. For example, a while ago I was fed up with the flood of mail one gets promising riches of Croesus and all sorts of things just for turning up somewhere and I tried to get somebody else to come with me. I studied all the small print and I spent a morning with coffees and so on reading it all but I couldn't get anybody to come with me. They said “No, it's just a cheat and you won't get anything”, and I said “Yes, but it's an experiment I'm doing. I reckon that I've read every bit of the thing and they can't get out of it, you see. Absolutely.” Nobody would come with me. I must have asked a dozen people. Not even just for a laugh, you know, and with dinner thrown in and so on. So, you see, many people are completely cynical about this. And you see this with politicians. We have absolutely categorical promises from them: “Read my lips, no new taxes”, and they put the taxes up three weeks later – and everybody just shrugs because that's what they expect. But this is part of a larger phenomenon, you see, that we are drugged, we don't expect to hear the truth, we don't expect, in other words, to experience reality, you could say, at a metaphysical level. I can t change the world but music I am concerned with because it's my world.
JR: As president of the Incorporated Society of Musicians for the past year, you have tried to tackle the question of music's function in the world.
GW: The conference at the ISM that I engendered was about the power of music – meaning the power for both good and for evil, you see. In my belief there is nothing that is either good or bad really, it's all neutral but it can be used for good or for bad and music is simply a great, great power that can be used either way. Now the Greeks knew exactly how it was to be used. It all came from the power of numbers, and music was so important to them that Plato said that music creates changes of government. So, if you don't like the government we've got, think that it might come from the fact that we have rock everywhere. A completely destructive form of so-called music. It's not what I would call music but it is a use of sound, let's say, that is totally destructive. Then ponder on how sound was used in the ancient world; we don't know all the secrets of the ancient world (I wish we did because they were obviously incredibly powerful), but we do know that sound is supposed to have been used in some very extraordinary ways. In the pyramids, for example, and there is a theory that the Easter Island figures and the Stonehenge stones and so on were moved by sound and this is taken seriously by very serious people. Sound is, in one sense, what we are made of. We are all made of vibrating frequencies, as is everything, and so we can't help but be affected by sound. Plato was the person who said the world began with numbers, and it is interesting that modern metaphysics is coming back to this at the same time that modern science is reaching this conclusion. In other words, the world came from a singularity and will, in the end, go back to a singularity. That is just a scientific way of saying the same thing that Plato said as regards numbers and that religion has said as regards God but it was the specific relationships between the intervals that created specific effects in the world. Even at the time of Bach thousands of years later, they knew the power of certain harmonies and the way in which they should be arranged: the effect of tension and release and how it is manipulated, and the effect it has on people. This is why so many people find Bach comforting and soothing, because he has the proportions right. We say music is a language of the emotions, in-so-far-as it moves the emotions powerfully, extremely powerfully. But it doesn't necessarily come just from the emotions, and that is why some music that is written by some perfectly sincere people, including a great deal of so-called religious music (called religious because it is set to a religious text) is in fact either incredibly banal, or else has the opposite effect. The music itself is not arranged according to these (you might say divine or you might say worldly) principles of tension and release. The harmonies should be arranged in a certain way which corresponds to things we don't entirely understand in the universe around us.
JR: So divine laws and rock don't mix. That seems obvious to any serious church musician, but not necessarily to members of the clergy.
GW: Since Bill Hayley's ‘Rock around the clock’ in 1957, rock has become louder and louder. It is like any other drug: unless you realise what it is doing to you, and unless you have some counter thing that is more interesting, then you become addicted to it and I think that's what happened. We threw out everything.... I mean, the church became absurd. Any church that can put rock into a great cathedral, which is a sacred building and on a sacred site, sacred long before the Christian church arrived here, is a figure of absurdity. There is no question about it. Rock has no relationship to the spiritual mysteries of the church. Doctors' waiting rooms are filled with people desperate for help. They will go to anything. They will take up crystal gazing, or whatever, in a desperate attempt to have help or escape, as you say. So there are two problems. One is the sadness of a world that has no consolation, it seems, in it because as soon as we profess to believe in something that consoles us then we are told by somebody that it is nonsense, that only what you can see matters. And on the other hand, the boredom, the extreme boredom of a way of life that is so divorced from all natural things. But there are immense influences on us. Just the buildings, for example, skyscrapers, give us a feeling of worthlessness because they are not people sized. That is a very important influence. If you were born in Bruges and you grew up there looking at those beautiful buildings all the time you would have quite a different reaction to things.
JR: So do you think that, as in architecture, where the enormous skyscrapers are now being replaced once more by humanized buildings, music is going to go through the same change?
GW: I would love to think it would, if we could escape the addiction. But may I just make a point about music and painting, which is that you cannot produce anything that is worthwhile in the world of the art if it stems from a negative impulse. It must stem from a positive impulse, in other words an urge – more than an urge, an absolute necessity on behalf of the creative person to express something that he has inside him that desperately needs to get out. But I was a student in Paris and lived at the ‘Cite International des Arts’ where you had sculptors and composers and all sorts of things for a while in an experimental place, and opposite me was a young man who wanted to be a composer. He would come and play Brahms on my piano all night, but he would then go back to his room and he had on the wall a huge piece of graph paper and on it he was composing something. It later won a very important prize in Britain but what he said as he played my piano and sighingly left it to go and throw some more darts at the wall was “If only I could compose like that”. He didn't mean “If only I were capable of composing like that”, but he meant “if only I were free in the artistic climate of the moment to compose in that way”. Of course his music is never played. One never hears a thing about it but it won a couple of prizes – two or three, I think – because it was clever. But nobody is going to take that music to their heart and the reason is that there is no creative impulse behind it. He was not trying to express something, he was merely trying not to express something which would be called by the critics derivative.
JR: Yes, because all composers are the victims of elitist taste or current fashion.
GW: It is a problem with criticism. It is a problem with discrimination. We don't teach abstract thought in schools, for example. The worst thing of all is examinations with three answers and you just strike out the ones that you don't think work. What we should teach always, right from the moment of birth, of course, but especially in the schools is the power of discrimination through teaching abstract thought. Then each man would be capable of seeing whether the emperor had any clothes or not.
JR: I mentioned elitism just now, and there has been a story recently that British Rail is providing carriages on the London to Sheffield line in which passengers can plug headphones into special sockets. Now, in the first-class carriage they can choose between Radio 4, Classic FM and what are called light and classical CDs. But in second-class they are only allowed radios I or 4 and light and pop CDs. Does it seem logical that second-class passengers should only want pop music?
GW: Well, I think to British Rail, all passengers are second class, aren't they? After all, they promise a buffet and it doesn't turn up, or there's no heating or the train's late or it breaks down, so that is the inevitable conclusion from anybody unfortunate enough to have to try and ride in a train. From the point of view of the music, I find it interesting that they think people on expense accounts and pop-stars, who are generally speaking the wealthiest people in our economy, should want classical music and the rest of the population pop music. To ask me to try to fathom the unfathomable brain of British Rail is to ask me something I don't even pretend to be capable of.
JR: I have just been re-reading “Music Ho” by Constant Lambert, and his argument would be that to have any classical music in a public place is to vulgarise it.
GW: Yes. You know, this all began being talked about by Weber, who said we are cheapening music and people can't listen to it any more because it is too accessible. It is everywhere around. I would like to know whose idea it was that we had to be accompanied by music wherever we go. I can't understand it. Why did we have that idea? You might just as well say that while we are talking here somebody should be standing there and madly reciting Shakespeare – or Barbara Cartland, if you are a second class passenger. It is completely ridiculous. Nobody, as far as I know, stops and asks this question, “where does it come from?”
JR: On the other hand, I have a favourite coffee bar that I use which has candlelit tables and dozens of musical instruments hanging from the ceiling. It is quite dark and has got a pleasant atmosphere and they have rather good cheese omelettes. The owner of the cafe selects tapes very carefully. Some of them are wallpaper baroque, mostly concertos (Albinoni, Vivaldi, Bach) and occasionally he likes to put on a bit of jazz when he is in the mood. Well, I love that!
GW: Yes, baroque music, much of it, was designed to be played in that way. Let's take a banquet in some medieval banqueting hall. Up in the musicians gallery you have musicians playing. They are mostly dances, cheerful music, and so on, and I think that is fine, because it is uncomplicated music, it's not music that tells any kind of a story or goes through a synthesis in the way, say, that the Beethoven violin concerto or any 19th century symphony does. Therefore you are not required to go along with it. In the latter case, in the 19th century, you are supposed to undergo a change along with the music and you swing from one emotion to another and then at the end you have the great reward which actually makes a change in you, as a person, of seeing the synthesis of the various emotions that are in opposition throughout the piece. But baroque music's not that sort of music. Secondly, it has one sound source and it is people-sized and it's not coming at you from a speaker three feet above your head. And thirdly, it is not just a repetitive thud.
JR: Of course this could be an argument for saying that it's quite reasonable that congregations should talk during a Bach voluntary at the end of a service.
GW: It would be if you thought it was there for entertainment only, yes. When you go out to eat there is a problem in restaurants, I know, because at the beginning of the evening people won't talk if they think they are going to be overheard in the silence. I quite see that. My solution would not be to have music but to have something else. For example, a different acoustical setting, but my favourite thing actually is a waterfall, which, in fact one of the pizza chains has. It is extremely attractive to look at and it gives you a natural sound. The operative word is “natural”. We have gone so far away from what is natural that we are suffering very badly. We are suffering physically because we are now filled with chemicals; we are suffering spiritually because we have lost our spiritual roots in the church and are surrounded by intimidating buildings – and don't forget the effect of colour. Grey concrete is terrible because colour has an enormous effect on people and we need colour, we need it for our health – physical and mental and spiritual...
JR: So perhaps what you are saying then is that, in the face of all this pollution and spiritual yearning, we desperately need music all the time wherever we go?
GW: No, but we need some music certainly. It is extremely cleansing and healing. But, the fountain thing looks pretty, it has a natural sound which covers up other people's talking but sounds attractive and thirdly, of course, it percolates through the air much more effectively than even ‘La Mer’ would played on a record.
JR: Gillian you're involved with a couple of societies - one with the name “The Right to Peace and Quiet Campaign” and the other “Pipedown” – the league against piped music. Are these still in existence?
GW: Definitely, yes. “The Right to Peace and Quiet Campaign” is a very big organisation that is just having its second birthday and has become extremely important. And it is lobbying the government, and so on, and it has to do with your neighbours playing reggae for three days and nights continuously, and dogs barking, and all that kind of thing.
JR: But not specifically piped music?
GW: No. “Pipedown” was formed by a man called Nigel Rodgers (not the singer) and it was because he had tried to get the muzak turned off the Piccadilly line – but he couldn't, and they wouldn't do anything at London Transport, so he formed this society and I read about it in ‘The Spectator'. Well, as you know, I've been boring my friends and others for years and years and years hoping that some day I would be able to set up such an organisation. But, of course, it is impractical for me. I'm never home. But I was thrilled, so l joined immediately with such a flood of supporting literature that he rang me up, having got it, and said, would you be National President, and I said, no but I will do whatever I can, and I have spoken on the BBC now about four times I think, and instigated several programmes. One of the programmes was on “Woman's Hour” and they went to lots and lots of shops, and, very significantly, one of the biggest – the Burton Group – had a directors meeting about this request to appear on the programme and then refused to appear, because there is so much money at stake. Customers are forced to open their pockets by all kinds of psychological warfare, which is what this is, that they were not prepared to risk any of it. But the interesting thing has been the response to the programme. People wrote in their droves for the address of “Pipedown”. It is about piped music, of course (most unfortunate for an organist to be associated with anything called “Pipedown”). But it is important because of the point you made, Jonathan, that live music happens with a real live person sitting there whether it is the pianist in the middle of Debenhams or a group of players or a harpist or something in your favourite restaurant, or whatever. But it must not be amplified and it must not come at you from speakers three feet away from you. That is not natural again, you see. It is perfectly natural to have a group of players sitting somewhere and playing and if you wanted to have a serious discussion with somebody and propose marriage to your girlfriend, or whatever, you go away from it at the other end of the restaurant. One manager said to me, “Madam, you don't understand that most of the people who go out to dinner have nothing to say to one another at all”. Of course, the response to that is, “You don't know that. It may be that they can't say anything because they are fed up with shouting. I don't have anything important enough to say to shout at anyone”. But, anyway, they can sit by the music. But to have this monotonous sound extremely loudly, and often a radio that has other things as well. For example, I don't want to be sold a used car or a holiday in Hawaii all the way through an expensive meal that is costing me a second mortgage in some restaurant, and I've had that again and again. One restaurant my husband and I went to, we walked in having driven so many miles we just couldn't bear to turn round and go away again and we knew the food was unbelievable because it had always been great before. We went in, although they had John Eliot Gardiner doing the Bach b minor mass on original instruments. I mean, the b minor mass when you have decided to have a blow out and the greatest wines etc. is intimidating, but, anyway, we got through the first course and a lot of the wine and then the second course had just arrived when a rock band broke into sound by the wall we were sitting at in the bar next door. So I leapt to my feet and got the waiter and said, “Look, you have got to stop that!” and he said, “We can't stop it, it's the band”(!). And I said, trying to get across to him the idiocy of this, “But it's louder than the muzak you are kindly supplying to us in your restaurant. “Oh, is it?” he said. “Sorry, I'll turn ours up.” So we had the prospect of John Eliot Gardiner on original instruments – the b minor mass – louder than a live rock band, and people in between trying to talk to one another. So I said “Listen, we have got enough stress. We came here to escape it. We will leave without paying the bill unless you do something about it”. And he said “I'm terribly sorry, madam”. So we left.
JR: You have kindly drawn my attention to the fact that there is a book called ‘Muzak-free London’ which is a guide to more than 400 restaurants, bars, hotels and hotel bars, shops or retail chains where there is absolutely no background music. And has that been updated – it ought to have been.
GW: I don't know. I must find out.
JR: But you didn't do any of the research for it?
GW: No I didn't. I just gladly accepted it. There are, though, two points. The music and the noise. The first question is ‘Why should there be music everywhere?’ It just degrades the music and it deadens our sensitivity to real music and it is dangerous to all of us musicians because it is endangering our audiences. Just as the great actors of the English stage complain that acting is so much less satisfying because their audience are not responsive to the subtleties, the nuances of the plays...
JR: And presumably they have to shout more...
GW: They have to shout a bit more, yes, but the people are dulled, they are not responding to the nuances of the English language which makes our theatre so incomparable, so we have this problem with audiences. The concentration span of the average person is three minutes now – the length of an MTV video. So it is dangerous for us.
JR: Are you saying that that is caused by background music? Television? Bad education?
GW: It is caused by constant exposure to noise.
JR: So, obviously the only long term answer can be re-education of people and, presumably, children. What does one do? What does one tell them?
GW: Tell children? Well, you have to first of all stop the noise level in your own home so that it is not an automatic move to turn on the radio or the television. You have to make sure that if somebody comes into your home you turn off whatever you were watching. In other words, it is talk or music but not both. Of course, if you are doing the ironing everybody wants something to alleviate the boredom of that, but to try and talk against music is an idiocy, just as it is to have three people trying to talk against one another. Things like MTV are hypnotic and somebody has to realise this and the way to do it is to point out things like the Michael Jackson thing.
JR: What is MTV?
GW: Music TV. It is a channel on satellite television which has mostly rock videos all the time. Rock has now become ragga. This ragga is now called a kind of music – this mix of reggae and rap – its extreme forms use violent lyrics glorifying guns and gangsters as part of a tough street culture, you see. The point is, it sounds funny to begin with but this is where it leads. There is a multi-million dollar court case going on in the United States at the moment from the widow of a policeman who was shot by someone who got out of a car and just shot him for no special reason – I don't think he had even been stopped – and, anyway, they found the tape running in the car of a popular rap or reggae thing saying ‘Kill a policeman today’ and it is being taken extremely seriously because they are suing one of these great corporations – Warner?
JR: If we can just look at ourselves and think how we can approach this. If we can't influence anybody else, how can we control ourselves and our own reaction to music? Perhaps the answer is just three minutes' silence every day?
GW: Three minutes' silence I think would change the world, Jonathan. I am desperately serious about this and that is why I am trying to point out that there are several different layers. I started with the lowest one of why on earth should we have music all the time. Nobody has answered that question. But at the more profound layer, everything comes out of silence. We can't hope to have a spiritual life without silence. “Be still and know that I am God”. It is serious, you know. You cannot hear anything worth hearing while you are constantly filled with noise. And the noise that we are inevitably filled with throughout the day, we carry with us throughout the night because it is like a kind of soiling of ourselves. And all power comes from silence. When you start with silence you will find your mind jangling and it is very uncomfortable and that is why people try to fill it immediately but, after a while, the experience is wonderful. Listen, if I was in charge of children I would take them out after rain in the countryside and say “Listen and tell me how many sounds you can hear”. And when you hear the sound of the grass gurgling up the rain you start to hear all kinds of sounds which are fascinating. They are wonderful sounds, they are fun. And then it would be like getting rid of an addiction of any other kind from your body. You get rid of it from your mind then you start communicating with your neighbour. We are unbelievably insensitive. A while ago I walked out of the hairdresser's or something and somebody was on the pavement in position waiting for the starter's whistle and I walked past him before it clicked that there was something wrong with that man. I went back and people were simply treading over him and in fact he had simply collapsed in paralysis. I called an ambulance and got people going and got him into the ambulance finally, but other people were just walking past. And it has happened to me. I fell over my luggage in Edinburgh station once and people walked over the top of me, so many of them that I couldn't get through to stand up again. We are so insensitive to one another. Communication takes place not at the level of words but at the level of body-language and if we are not responsive to the body-language, to the emanations from somebody, what are we losing? We are losing our awareness of one another, our sensitivity to one another and that is why it matters.
JR: And the place of musicians?
GW: As musicians, we must give our fellow man the harmony for which the soul yearns and longs every moment. And someday, music will be the means of expressing universal religion. Time is wanted for this, but there will come a day when music and its philosophy will become the religion of humanity.
Organ Club Journal [London], Number 4, 1993.