• Joshua Ballance

On the Passing of Jessye Norman

Today began for me like any other day. I woke up and promptly snoozed the alarm. When I achieved consciousness an hour later I checked my email (I know, I know), my notifications, and then BBC, where the headlines covered the usual blonde pissing contest. And yet, scrolling down to the sixth or seventh line, they announced the death of Jessye Norman.

Sitting down to start my day later on, I began with the usual routine: making my to-do list and doing some encoding with one of my regular politics podcasts. And then, half an hour later while scrolling through Facebook, someone had shared Im Abendrot. I don’t know why I decided to click on it this time – my social media feeds are packed with her Strauss – but I did.

Stepping into the fierce embrace of that opening chord, everything vanished. Like when you look down on a city from a plane, Boris and Trump and impeachment and harassment suddenly became miniscule, unimportant in the face of something so much greater. All I could think, all I could feel was those yearning strings. When she entered with ‘Wir sind durch Not’, my entire being was consumed with the journey through that major third.

Impeachment and harassment aren’t unimportant: I follow the hourly twists and turns with ardent fascination and I care deeply that justice is done, in both cases. Sexual harassment is completely unacceptable and deserves to be investigated and punished. To be able to dismiss any of these things for even 10 minutes it is an obscene privilege that so many others do not have. And yet, somehow, for those 600 seconds I don’t care about incompetence or criminality. All that matters is the slow, winding path from one Eb major chord to another.

I suppose the implications of this are hardly novel, though no less profound for their familiarity. Great art gives us something to live for, and to hope with, irrespective of how bleak the situation appears. The daily happenings of our political environment possibly aren’t as important as they feel in the moment (or I’ve just been worn down by three years of this ****). So on this day when everything feels so broken and wrong take 10 minutes to listen to Jessye Norman. Is this perhaps peace?

Recent Posts

See All

The Dangers of Teaching Composition

It’s well-known that marking original composition is a fraught endeavour. As soon as you’re past simple factual matters — a clarinettist can’t play chords (well, sort of); a cellist can’t play a low B

Cuomo, Levine, and Mediocrity

Over the last week, the American press has been consumed by the actions of two men, Andrew Cuomo and James Levine. The first is the governor of New York, who has managed an Icarian collapse from the ‘

On the Departure of Sir Simon Rattle

It’s a funny one, Simon Rattle leaving (again). I read the news yesterday in and amongst speculation about impeachment (again) and horrendous pandemic numbers, and yet it touched me far more than I ex