They may start to behave in ways that are challenging and distressing, both for themselves and those around them. For example, they may:
- become restless or agitated
- shout out or scream
- become suspicious of others
- follow someone around
- ask the same question repeatedly.
It is important to look at why the person is behaving this way and try to identify which needs are not being met. This will mean trying to see things from their perspective as much as possible. Meeting a person’s needs appropriately can make these behaviours easier to cope with, or prevent them from happening in the first place.
The above words are paraphrased from guidelines on how to respond to someone grappling with the effects of dementia. They’re a useful starting point, i think for considering the output of Gerald Barry, particularly his most recent offering, Canada, premièred at the Proms last Monday. For while Barry himself may not display the signs of this affliction (though, listening to his painfully weird pre-concert interview with Louise Fryer, one wonders), his music most certainly does. It’s perhaps the archetypal ‘Marmite music’: you either think it’s the best thing since – and the perfect accompaniment to – sliced bread, or a ghastly streak of shit-coloured malevolence that you wish with all your being had never come into existence.
Let me switch analogies for a moment, from dementia to the Mr. Men, and to that most sage of characters, Mr. Jelly. For those unacquainted with the genius of Roger Hargreaves’ children’s books, Mr. Jelly lives up to his name, reacting with instant terror to the slightest of sounds, until a kindly tramp teaches him to count to ten in order to remain calm and appraise the situation properly. It’s not just good advice for life generally, it’s excellent counsel, again, for dealing with Gerald Barry’s music. Because of the extent to which i reviled this piece on first listening, i’ve opted to live with Canada for nearly a week now; i’ve experienced it multiple times, and pondered it at length. And breadth. i’m not sure this was a wise use of time.
The conclusion i’ve reached is that while it occupies these dimensions, it fills them, not with a void, but with an almost indescribably stupid collection of entirely arbitrary, meaningless ideas. There is, i know, absolutely nothing wrong with that. Personally, for many, many years i’ve tried to express to people how much i value incomprehensibility – not just in music but in all the arts – and the benefits that can arise and the fascinating authenticity and expression that can miraculously make themselves apparent in art that (ostensibly at least) seeks to do the complete opposite. Why should music meet us halfway? But in the six minutes of Canada – a duration that has rarely felt so mercifully brief – we find ‘stuff’ that’s neither simple nor recondite, neither single- nor multi-layered, neither posing questions nor seeking to answer them, offering neither superficial delight nor deep profundity. There’s clearly intention to it, but those intentions are at the mercy of an approach to invention that’s less capricious and whimsical than merely frivolous and impassive. The music simply doesn’t seem to care about anything.
Notwithstanding the fact that it doesn’t work superficially, perhaps we might switch off our brains for a while and consider the possibility that it is all meant as straightforward, silly entertainment. Reciting the lines from the Prisoner’s Chorus in Beethoven’s Fidelio – regularly interpolating the word ‘Canada’ – in French and English (Canada’s languages) as well as the original German with wildly histrionic zeal, becoming a kind of madcap recitative: tickled yet? How about when the orchestra then gets going in a lengthy boisterous burst constructed from borrowed mannerisms: laughing now? Or how about when this is done all over again but now in a blasted, dissonant version? No? Okay, then how about when the tenor repeats the word ‘Canada’ again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again over a staccato wind accompaniment like a drunk rendition of ‘Three Blind Mice’: that’s hilarious, right? Surely by the time the music slows and lets fly a tattoo of trombone farts, all of our sides are communally split?
Some works are bad, others are boring, but Canada is just a wretched display of the most rampant bravura idiocy that doesn’t so much require a review as a crash investigation and forensics team. Or, indeed, a team of care-givers who can work hard to “make these behaviours easier to cope with, or prevent them from happening in the first place.” If only. Until now i’d thought of the adjective ‘demented’ as a positive one when describing music, but the musical derangement demonstrated in Canada has ruined it for me. Vacuous, pitiable, demented garbage.
The world première was given by tenor Allan Clayton and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla.
HAVE YOUR SAY
Gerald Barry - Canada
- Loved it! (51%, 38 Votes)
- Liked it (7%, 5 Votes)
- Meh (9%, 7 Votes)
- Disliked it (7%, 5 Votes)
- Hated it! (27%, 20 Votes)
Total Voters: 75