Singing and Identity

Twenty years ago, when I lived in Kyoto for the first stint, I remember being stunned by Scottish bagpipers in Hankyu (or was it Takashimaya) Department store. Of course I was surprised to chance on them, but more profound was the impact of their (huge) sound on my heart. I'm not Scottish by the way, but they were from near enough to where they suddenly, screamingly, made me feel I belonged. Even now I often think of that musical encounter as a seminal moment in my sense of identity.

These days, having moved around a lot and now living in Kyoto for a second stint, I often ponder the idea of belonging to a geographical place, and I wonder if it is a not-good thing. I wonder if the idea of belonging somewhere smacks of refusal, rewinding, recoil from broadening horizons and fuels the narrow mindedness behind many social problems of our time. But certainly we are formed by what we grow from; by the sights and sounds on which we honed our senses and the frames up which we climbed. And since we carry those senses and frames of reference with us, wherever we are, we can freely revisit them in our minds and affirm our foundations.

There are some songs I feel I have always known, and when I sing them I find a thread that links my life together. When I hear, or even imagine, other people singing the same and different songs, I know that music connects us to eachother across space and time. Then I believe that, besides proving my own origin, path and continued existence, the act of singing witnesses an internal/eternal place that somehow we all belong to, wherever we come from.

Afterthoughts -
My Mum tells me that the first tune I could sing by myself was Blaydon Races, so I put some words from it as a footer to this blog page. Come to think of it, I have never actually learned the words - I just sing da da da, which may well be exactly how I did it as a baby.

My Granddad could play harmonica and piano, and he had an accordion (a Honer Double-Ray Black-dot which is currently in my parents' loft). Although he had 8 children, none of them played any instrument. But my Mum could pick out Annie Laurie on it, so when he was old he gave it to her. I never thought to ask her how Annie Laurie went - I wonder if she can still play it. Now I am doing singing workshops in Japan I find that the melody of Annie Laurie is well known here. So I have learned Annie Laurie recently, aged 44, in Japan.

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