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Music's Role in the Journey to World Peace: Interview with British Composer Malcolm Dedman

Heather Broadbent

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Published: May 7, 2014 at 4:09 PM [UTC]

As an American violinist living and working in Bulgaria I have a glorious opportunity to see the world in a completely different perspective than most. Our personal reality is influenced by our environment and our perceived environment is influenced by our reality. So many times we hear about the Native Americans not being able to see the ship with which Christopher Columbus arrived to America because it was the first time seeing something like this before.....I had a very similar experience yesterday. I saw some pictures on the internet in regards to the conflict in Ukraine. When I first saw the pictures, I couldn't understand what they  were... First my brain processed outlines and colors...then I thought I was looking at statues or some dark artwork and then I realized after reading the words below the pictures what I was seeing....Absolutely burned alive bodies frozen in their last seconds of life...As I write this, tears come to my eyes in the horrors of what exist in this world but my reaction is not to fight, my reaction is not to say who is right and who is wrong, my reaction is not hate. My reaction is to LOVE.

Love is truth; however, people may or may not understand the truth based on the personal reality of their life. Personal reality influences if and how truth will be processed. As I have observed from my life's journey, some truths are selectively shared to manipulate the people and when truth is presented, perhaps it is like the brain processing something never seen before. This makes me think how much I love finding precise truth in intonation.

One more example...when I visited Dresden, the sole purpose was to get to know the city where my violin bow had been owned before. A simple visit. When I saw that everything in the city was black, the buildings, the statues....I processed this as interesting choice in building material and then I realized everything was burnt. Over seventy years after World War Two a city was still recovering. The buildings and statues were still in the process of getting "scraped" free from the burning caused by the carpet bombs from World War Two.people-152040_640

Perspective is everything...

And Reaction even more so...

The fight against darkness can actually invite and encourage more darkness. Instead of extending energy in reacting or learning how to fight against the negative - a very simple answer is to love and to feel joy.  Focus on this and nothing more.

Recently, I had the unique opportunity to interview Malcolm Dedman, a featured composer for Quartet Sintez upcoming concert and we talked about the inevitability of world peace. Malcolm and I first met online via twitter and I fell in love with his music on reverbenation. I realized a theme of light in his music and had to reach out to him so I invited him to be a composer for Composer Corner, a Quartet Sintez and composer collaboration. Little did I know that the power of Law of Attraction brought us together as one on this planet. I learned this from interviewing him. In the following interview get to know Malcolm Dedman from South Africa and discover a very simple path to world peace that involves music.

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May 11, 2014 11:00 AM CST
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Interview with Malcolm Dedman, British composer currently living in South Africa. Born in London in 1948.

Below please find the transcript of the interview:

“Malcolm Dedman, British composer currently living in South Africa. Born in London in 1948.”

What is your first musical memory?

This was my mother playing piano at home during my early childhood.

What is your main instrument?

When I was around 5 years old, my mother taught me piano and to read music. Around the age of 8, I had the opportunity of learning the violin at school, so I would say that violin is my main instrument as I discontinued my piano lessons. I continued to play violin and in my teens I joined a local orchestra and played some chamber music. I also sung in various choirs which, during my teenage years, I started taking singing lessons. I was in much demand in amateur choirs as a tenor. Later I was a member of the BBC Symphony Chorus for about 6 years.

When did you decide and how did you come about to compose your first composition?

As a child, rather than practicing piano as I should, I would improvise. As a result of my having a limited technique and the fact that I only knew diatonic music, these improvisations were rather limited, but I dreamed of being ‘discovered’ by someone who would write down my improvisations! By the time I was 12, I taught myself to write music down and my first composition was ‘Thunderstorm’, a dramatic piece for violin and piano – but nevertheless a rather naïve composition.

Why do you compose? What is your spark or inspiration to compose?

Composition is not a choice one makes, it is a calling. In simplistic terms, music comes to me, I cannot help this, and it has to be written down. Later, I have had to learn that the art of composition is 20% inspiration and 80% perspiration, so my early years were naturally naïve until I started listening to new music on radio and discovering new sounds that were not a part of my mother’s understanding. This initially inspired me to write down more music and write for the church, my school, etc. But now, my inspiration is to write music that has a message that can be communicated via sound. Communication is the important point here as I believe that many avant guarde music over the last 70 or so years have alienated audiences, and this has unfortunately given new music a bad name. I wish to bring audiences back to new music.

I would like to add here that I did not take up music performing or composing as a career path. All my career advisors told me it would never make enough money! (Unfortunately I believed them). However, I did have a second ‘string to my bow’ (please excuse the pun) and that was at school I was very interested in physics. After school, I took my Honours degree in Applied Physics and after university, this degree gave me the ticket to work as an electronic engineer in R&D departments, designing circuits and software. I found out that this did not pay too well either! This came to an end after 20 years in 1991 when I then started to teach music in schools and privately which I still do to this day.

Tell us more about your pieces specifically written for violin and friends?

Since moving to South Africa I have been very lucky to have more time to write. In this time I have written two violin solos: ‘Dispelling the Darkness’ and ‘Monologues’; three pieces for violin and piano: ‘Universal Love’, ‘Dance of Africa’ and ‘The Labyrinth’; and two for violin and harp: ‘Journey of the Soul’ and ‘Unchartered Territories’. I have also written an ensemble piece called ‘Eternal Harmonies’ with an important violin solo part, also much chamber music that includes important parts for violin, including a Piano Trio and two String Quartets. Strings in general and violin in particular feature very strongly in my output, I think because I learned to play the instrument as a child.

What do you think is the connection between music and spirituality – if any?

There is a connection, definitely and, as you can tell from some of my titles, this connection is very important to me. However, not all music makes this connection, neither does it intend to. Additionally, every individual is different, so one piece will communicate on a spiritual level to some, but not to others.

There is one thing I would like to elaborate on if I may: and that is Stravinsky told us that music cannot express anything, he says music is composed of notes forming melody, rhythm, harmony, etc. This seems in opposition to many people’s view on music, but I think what he means is that a composer writing a piece about a particular place or event may produce sounds that suggest this to him/her as a composer, but this music could easily be used in a totally different context. That is, the music does not necessarily express or communicate the idea in the composer’s mind at the time or writing. In contrast to this, Mahler has said that if he could express his ideas in words, he would not need to write music. These two statements seem to be opposing, but in a way I can see both points of view. In my view, music is capable of expressing concepts that are difficult or impossible to express in words – at the same time, it is also about melodic and rhythmic motives and how these are developed. In general art, and especially music, can communicate very strong emotions that are difficult to express in words, but more importantly for me, it can (but not always) communicate on a spiritual level which is quite impossible to express verbally. But – every listener will receive the music differently depending on their background and understanding.

Tell us about your personal connection between music and spirituality?

As a teenager, I heard a great deal of new music and one of the composers I grew strongly interested in was Olivier Messiaen. I think the first recording I bought was ‘La Nativité’, but I had also heard ‘Trois Petite Liturgies’ and many other of his compositions. I do not always agree with his strongly Roman Catholic viewpoints and interpretations, even though I was baptized and confirmed in the Church of England, but the music spoke to me more personally on a spiritual level than anything else I had heard. Since then I have explored other composers who can communicate spiritually, one example being Britten’s ‘War Requiem’.

Has Spirituality always been a theme in your compositions or did you have a turning point in your composing career?

Before I could discover how to communicate in this way I had to write and develop a lot and find my own true voice. I did write music for the church, but I have later realized that this is not especially spiritual. This is because religion and spirituality are not necessarily the same thing. [I have found that a person can be on a spiritual path without ever attending any church, mosque or synagogue, etc.] In 1975 I wrote a Christmas Cantata which was performed in Birmingham and I found this possessed a spiritual connection; and likewise a year later I wrote a Mass for the church I was attending for choir and two percussionists – and I felt similarly about this. However, my ‘turning point’ was gradual rather than a specific time. In the late 70’s and early 80’s, I started writing instrumental pieces in which I wanted to communicate a spiritually connected message, one work being ‘Supplication for Peace’ for two guitars. Also, my first String Quartet is very much about overcoming struggle and violence so that peace could be established. Later, pieces with a spiritual connection in some way (for me) include ‘Two Reflections’, ‘2nd Piano Sonata – In Search’, ‘Four Kinds of Love’ all for piano solo; also ’Supplication for Peace’ for two guitars, ‘Three Human Attributes’ (body, mind and soul) for piano duet, and much more. The piece I have just completed, my 2nd String Quartet, is subtitled ‘Five Aspects of Spirit’.

Do you think world peace is possible, are we currently on this path and what steps as individuals can we take to encourage this process?

This is a very interesting question as many people are rather negative about the possibility. But we need to look at Scripture – not only that of the Bible, but that of other religions. May I just deviate slightly by saying that, as I already mentioned, I was raised as a Christian but I gradually moved away from going to church around 1982. I realized that for quite a while I had been put off the church by the disunity between the various Christian churches. By around 1985, I embraced a Faith that expressed my ideas more precisely, that being the Bahá’í Faith, and I soon discovered that a strong Bahá’í concept is the unity of religion and the oneness of God. The founder, Bahá’u’lláh, revealed to us Scriptures that are as equally Divinely inspired as any other Scripture, such as the Holy Bible, and He expressed in these Scriptures very clearly that world peace is not only possible, but it is inevitable. If we look at the Lord’s Prayer revealed by Christ, He says ‘Thy Will be Done on earth as it is in Heaven’, and as the Bahá’í Writings tell us that it is God’s will for His earth to be a peaceful place, then God’s will shall surely be done. I know this is difficult to believe as there is so much uncontrolled conflict in the world, but the Writings do state that conditions would need to worsen before they improved, so I believe this is the stage we are at right now – things can only get better. Bahá’u’lláh has revealed to us a set of very important tasks that mankind must work at in order that the peace process can begin and I will attempt to put some of this into my own words. Peace can only happen once prejudice is banished – prejudice of religion, race and colour in particular. This can be achieved through education and both men and women should achieve the highest level of education possible. People must understand one another and be tolerant of one another without prejudice. There will always be conflict between people as we are all different we should be able to freely express our differences. (Freedom of speech and Human Rights, etc.). But if we can all accept one another’s differences, in fact celebrate the fact we are all individual and have these differences, then the conflict that might arise will be under control. Controlled conflict is better than uncontrolled. I hope this makes sense, but we must remember that education is the key to acceptance. It is well worth remembering the phrase ‘Unity in Diversity’, a vitally important concept.

What do you think is the role of music on the path to world peace?

The 20th century has shown that music can most certainly express conflict! But more importantly, music is capable of showing how conflict can be resolved, and this is what I generally aim to do in my compositions. Of course, people have to listen and, if the music is effective, this will generate thoughts and discussions which I believe will aid understanding. Just one word of warning, there is far too much music out there today that does none of this, so please don’t expect that listening to all the popular music, rock and all that background stuff that we don’t seem to be able to get away from – don’t expect this to bring about peace, because it won’t. It has to be music, to my mind, that is written with this purpose in mind, such as Britten’s War Requiem, which is about the futility of war. Music can express love, unity and harmony. It can express the resolution of conflict. Messiaen’s ‘Combat de la Mort et de la Vie’ from the organ cycle ‘Les Corps Glorieux’ shows this very effectively.

What is the role of spirituality on the path to world peace?

They are both strongly interlinked. It all depends on your individual view of spirituality. One can learn a lot from the Buddhists in this respect – by meditating and by searching for this thing they call ‘enlightenment’. This, I believe, is the path to being a better person, to be the best person we can be – in everything we do. Once we commit ourselves to this, we become more spiritually aware and, by being that better person, we can be more loving to our fellow humans, to animals, to nature and to whatever higher being we believe in (God or the Universal Mind). We will then realize that peace starts with ourselves, then to those around us (friends, family, colleagues, etc.); then the process will expand to our country; and eventually the whole world will be a better place and peace will be the result. But the process starts with us as individuals and, according the Science of Mind, we must think positively for, a negative thought will be radiated out and become self-fulfilling – it will be our prayer and will result in negative consequences. Conversely, positive thoughts, also a prayer, will, in time, become self-fulfilling. There is a lot for us to do – we have a long way to go – but the teachings are available for all to see. First we need to believe it is all possible.

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