Music Hath Charms

Last night I participated in a symphony. Clemency's extended family (and therefore, of course, mine) gathered at Helen and Alan Edward's place to see the new year in by performing Haydn's Toy Symphony aka Cassation in G major for toys,2 oboes, horns, string and continuo. We didn't have a lot of oboes or horns but there was a piano and a clavier and for the rest we made do with recorders, electric guitar, bass, a violin, a bird whistle and a lot of rattles, drums and other things that could be whacked or shaken by musical illiterates such as myself when someone who knew what they were doing gave the nod. I sat with 7 year old Emmie, and drank red wine and ate quince jelly and contributed my part to the wonderfully structured mayhem.

Gilbert giving a virtuoso performance
on the nightingale decoy
We have always been a close family but an hour of making music together means we are somehow even closer. Such is the miracle working power of noise.

Earlier in the week I witnessed another example of this magic watching a Mongolian documentary called The Weeping Camel. You can view the entire 90 minute documentary here, and the Dunedin Public library has a copy of the DVD for rent and no doubt you could pick one up from, and maybe you should, because it's a powerful piece of film. It records the life of a multi generational Mongolian nomad family. The insight into their warm and mutually respectful community life is engrossing enough, but the incident which gives the film its name is nothing short of astonishing.

In the camel breeding season, one of the family's camels is late to give birth and undergoes a distressing 2 day labour before her colt is delivered. In light of the trauma of the birth, mother camel rejects the colt, refusing to let it suckle or even come near her. The family try all they know to ensure the young camel's survival and finally arrange a hoos ceremony. The sons of the family, aged about 14 and 6 set off on camel back across a vast distance of the Gobi desert to find and fetch back a violinist. The musician arrives, and the reluctant mother camel is dragged spitting and snarling to him. The musician ties his violin to the camel's hump and the wind blows across it, making soft ethereal sounds which the camel instantly reacts to. He then takes the violin and plays it while one of the the women of the nomad household sings and strokes the distressed camel. And the camel begins to weep. Yes, seriously. Tears roll from her eyes and she snuffles and moans softly. The colt is led to her and she nuzzles it and allows it to suckle. The restraining ropes are removed from the camel and her child and they move off together, bonded at last.

I have no idea what was going on, but I am pleased with a documentary which leaves me with no answers but, rather, some important and intriguing questions. The camel obviously had issues surrounding birthing and mothering, and somehow the music resolved them. What does this say about consciousness and the extent that animals share in it? What is music and why does it have this effect on camels and families?

The last scene of the film does nothing to answer these, and everything to restate them. The violinist goes back to the family yurt, and after dinner everyone has a sing song - I can recognise this bit. Then the film closes with a distant shot of the tent glowing with lamplight in the darkness of the vast Gobi. The sound of the music drifts out and into the air, where it is joined to the sound of the camel, braying in tune with the family's singing. The film ended, in other words, by reminding me of how little I know, about anything at all.


Carl S-E said…
Dear Kelvin, I am grateful for this futher evidence of the personhood of the so-called Lesser Brethren. But how many people hearing of the weeping camel will be astonished at the power of music, rather than at what I can only call the humanity of the camel? We have a long way to go yet. Many thanks again, Carl.
Katherine said…
Lovely post. Some of my most happy moments were when I was 11 and making beautiful music with others, singing in the church choir at St Luke's, Havelock North.

Wishing you a 2010 full of fun and love.
Anonymous said…
Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!
Ben said…
I was very grateful that you pointed this documentary out to us Kelvin. It was screened last night on Maori TV, so I figured sit down and watch it. It was a lovely story and beautifully made, so thanks for making me aware of it.
Anonymous said…
I really love your explanation about the documentary. Actually I am Mongolian but i did not know all of these things until i watch this documentary. Because I used to live in a city when I was in Mongolia, i guess. So you are not the only one who does not know it, I did not see this even I am Mongolian. ;) thanks for the share your opinion