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Musical Post-Codes - Regional Sounds

For some years now, in most civilised countries of the world there has come into use a rational method of identifying a location by a specific numerical code. In the USA it is the zip-code and in Britain it is known as the post-code. Many other countries have devised similar standard methods of identifying a town, a smaller locality or even a street by either a number or a combination of numbers and figures. Although at first this was faintly resented as yet another official regimentation of private lives; and the way in which we described where we live or work it has now been accepted as a useful means of the unmistakable identification of premises where we can be found. There has, however, crept in a more insidious implication behind all this well-meaning official bureaucracy: Some financial institutions are said to base their assessment of applicants for such things as mortgages or other pleas for the loan of cash, on the post-code of the applicant. The notion being that a "good" post-code stands you in a good light, whereas a "bad" one suggests you might not be a good, sound financial proposition. Insurance companies are also acutely aware of a desirable address compared with one that is less so, and thus it is now largely a matter of what post-code area you live in. More recently the precise post-code you have would appear to influence how the National Health Service regards you: whether you should be accorded hospital or drug treatment or other service. All this is a matter for others to discuss. However, it has been put to me recently that it might be worth considering whether some post-codes suggest the kind of music going on within its perimeter. This, of course, is hardly meant in the very narrowest sense of the difference between one street and its back-to-back neighbour (although many years ago one shrewd and resourceful investigator - or researcher, as we should call him or her these days, if I remember rightly it was in connection with "My Fair Lady" - suggested that the intonation of the spoken word could pin-point with almost un-erring precision the original birthplace of the speaker, even down to the street they were born in).

As for some kind of musical post-code this could be of interest in the sense that we might be able to discern a pattern of musical interests and pursuits according to where one lives; not in the narrow sense of which street or avenue maybe, but certainly in which county or part of the country at large. There could be any number of opinions about this: local pride will boast a tradition for this or that kind of music-making from any part of the country that might be mentioned. In the wider sense countries could undoubtedly lay claim to one kind of music or another: The guitar in Spain; Welsh male-voice choirs;

Jazz in New Orleans; Piano music in Poland; Yodelling in the Swiss Alps; Opera in Italy; The classical symphony in Vienna; Brass bands in the north of England;

Narrowing the whole thing down to Britain, what might be found in the way of contrasting the richness of a musical tradition or on-going lively interest in one region of Britain with another part of the country? Suggesting that one place is ‘better’ than another could cause offence, but, without suggesting particular areas of Britain as a whole it might be worth considering what happened about forty years ago, when, in the field of musical education some local authorities were quick off the mark to institute instrumental teaching in schools, whereas other local authorities showed little or no interest at all, so that a child living in "X-shire" would have every (free) facility to learn the bassoon, viola, timpani or horn; whereas his cousin living in far-way "Y-shire" would find no provision under his local education authority for the peripatetic teaching of sophisticated orchestral instruments. Some authorities very soon promoted efficient youth orchestras, while another authority would offer little or nothing along these lines. Times have changed and probably are now quite different. However, the state of educational music, however it might at the present time be regarded provides nevertheless some clue as to the overall "musicality" of a region. This could be most hotly disputed of course, since, as has already been suggested, local pride will assert that it has some kind of musical tradition even if outsiders do not think so.

Without making in-depth comparisons with other countries - the long tradition of symphonic music in Germany, or opera in Italy, for example - it can be revealing to contemplate various parts of Britain itself. Every musically interested person will have preferences and general notions as to how or why this shows itself in a particular way or in a particular location. Could it be - and this is hardly more than a rhetorical question - that the more rural parts of the land, being more sparsely populated, and therefore less likely to attract larger and regular groups of enthusiasts to make music together, the less is the likelihood that music flourishes in a big way? (an obvious reason, surely) coupled with the fact that rural folk are perhaps more likely to be interested in rural and outdoor pursuits than an essentially indoor recreational interest such as a choir, band or orchestra.

Even such ‘folk’ music as the brass band, which has always had an outdoor purpose as much as - or even more than - a formal indoor concert function seems to have functioned throughout its 160-or-so year history more in densely populated industrial regions than in smaller country communities. The reasons for this must again seem obvious enough, but perhaps more social history could be unearthed were we to probe even deeper. What about vocal music and in particular choirs? It is natural to sing, and William Byrd one of England’s great composer from earlier times said: "Singing is a great thyng, I wishe that all Menn would learn to sing". There does not appear to be any kind of occupational barrier that might promote or discourage singing. Certainly solo singing still flourishes in the ubiquitous world of pop music. Putting aside for a moment the obvious demographic reasons for the flourishing or languishing of music - of all kinds - in one region compared with another; could there be other, so far unsuspected reasons for one part of the land to be considered "very" musical, perhaps on account of its flourishing musical organisations of every kind, and yet another region of roughly comparable population and industrial, commercial or cultural make-up to be looked upon as something of a musical desert? No suggestions are made here, this is something for interested parties to assess for themselves. Suffice to say that, sophisticated and world centre for music that London has ever been, the essential place, a "must" for every seriously ambitious musician to live in order to make his or her mark. I have always been a northerner in every sense, musical and otherwise, and have never regretted it, despite blandishments to "come and live in London". Some will say that I would have had a far greater overall success as a musician had I toed-the-line and joined the jet-set down south. This I do not accept - here in the north we have the most flourishing of musical traditions which still go on with incredible vitality and excellence.

Arthur Butterworth

November 2006

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