Almost 50 years ago, I was studying in a college in Jamaica where I was greatly involved in the music culture of the college and the island. I sang in the semi-professional choir, served as the church organist and performed in all the major musical events on campus. I had the privilege of singing all over the island in church halls, music theaters, schools and ballrooms. For two consecutive years, I was selected by the national music committee as the most outstanding male singer on the entire island. What intrigued me the most was the great appreciation grassroots people had for art songs and classical music. Whether they liked it or not, I am not sure. However, one thing was certain, they showed deep respect for the performer and the art of performing, no matter what kind of music it was. When I performed in tiny country churches, people would walk long distances just to hear me sing, without an accompaniment, simple Negro spirituals. Often, after singing songs like “A City Called Heaven”, “Ride on, King Jesus” or “Were You There”, there would be a standing ovation. Sing it again someone would shout from the audience. It was a blessing to see the response.
When I returned to The Bahamas in 1978, I was in for an unexpected culture shock. Within two weeks of returning home, I was asked to sing, in a concert, some of the same songs that thrilled hundreds in Jamaica. As I began singing, some people started laughing, others walked out, and others showed a great disinterest by the expression on their faces. Determined not to let that stop me, I had to tell myself to sing on. I was grateful for the few who did express appreciation for the performances. It was really a shock. It was just a few weeks earlier when everyone listening respected the music although some might not have liked it. Now, back home in my own country, while singing the same songs, I was being laughed at. Certainly, some did not like the music and a greater number were disrespectful and could not appreciate the art form.
I am often amazed how so many Bahamians get so excited over musical renditions where the performances leave much to be desired in the serious world of music. The guitars are not properly tuned; the players are picking unrhythmically loud; while the drummers hit the drums tumultuously beyond the sound of the voices. The trumpets and horns are being blown through with gusts of air producing harsh sounds. In addition, the singers shout with vein-engorged necks, thus ending the performance with sore throats. The music seriously lacks dynamics or color. But to the untrained ear, these unrefined aspects of the rendition cannot be recognized. After such cheap “grand” performance, the people stand to their feet in all excitement and “respect”. But when a well-in-tune, dynamic, harmonious form of music is presented, there is an awesome uneasiness, laughter or disrespect. These two stunning differences are too commonly obvious at concerts in our country today.
It is my view that when more Bahamian residents develop respect and appreciation for kinds of music other than Junkanoo, we will see a decrease in the crime rate. I am not suggesting that one must like classical music. However, believe it or not, whether or not you like classical music, listening to it can impact you positively. I believe there are also many forms of music that can bring discipline of mind. For example, light jazz, light calypso, operatic music, baroque music, traditional spirituals, southern gospel, and more. But when one sticks to only listening to or only appreciating one kind of music, it stifles growth.
It is my view that the more we have people participating in or listening to the more refined music (classical, spirituals, etc.), the more it can impact the crime level in our country. Let us keep Junkanoo music, it has a great part to play in our culture. But we must go beyond that kind of music.
An article titled, “How Classical Music Can Reduce Crime, Benefit Your Mood and Increase Your Spending”, speaks about the impact of classical music on crime. “In 2004, in London, England, the British Transport Police piped classical music into London Underground stations in some of the area’s most dangerous neighborhoods. After playing the music for six months here: robberies were cut by 33 percent; staff assaults decreased by 25 percent; (and) vandalism went down 37 percent.
“This is not the first time that classical music has been used to deter crime. In 2001, police in West Palm Beach, Florida, installed a CD player and speakers on an abandoned building in a crime-ridden neighborhood. After playing classical music – mostly Mozart, Bach and Beethoven – 24 hours a day for about three months, shootings, thefts, loiterers and drug deals decreased.”
I wish that more Bahamians would get excited about classical and easy listening music. I am not asking for a decrease in Junkanoo music. Instead, I’m seeking greater respect and appreciation (not necessarily to love it) for the refined forms of music. I am certain this will impact our nation’s anxiety and stress levels and decrease crime.