Saturday, 5 December 2015

All Together Now...

.Each episode of Mad Men concludes with the credits rolling over a soundtrack of a well-chosen popular song and this week, when I watched the final, final episode (I think), that song was I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing in Perfect Harmony - yes, the Coca Cola advert - which I've always dismissed as the epitome of naff. But the choice was certainly apposite in the context of the story and, as it happens, the wider context of world affairs, especially given the ongoing but feeble attempts to put an end to the complex and seemingly intractable wars in the Middle East.

Ah but music, you may say, is powerless to influence the outcome of world events. And yet...there may be some hope. On Sunday evening I was at a gig for the launch of a record called Songs for Mavis by the a cappella group, The Voice Collective. The singing (which was in perfect harmony) was terrific but what also impressed me was the fact that they had no leader: all the arrangements had been created by committee i.e. the thirteen singers acting collectively. This, as they acknowledged in their introduction, is not easy; but nor is it impossible - as their performance attested. All it requires, apparently, is the will to harness individual talents to the yoke of collective endeavour. Simple.

Try telling that to our parliamentary representatives who spent most of this week arguing and squabbling over whether to bomb targets in Syria. They were positioning themselves for the culmination of the drama - a ten-hour debate in the House of Commons to decide the issue. It's a tricky one made trickier by the fact that they chose, in my view, to debate the wrong motion. Given that there is widespread acknowledgement - even in military circles - that politics, not war, is the only effective way to address the mess that is the Middle East, where was the ten-hour debate on the motion that we should do more to promote a diplomatic initiative? It's as if, having discussed the fundamentals superficially (if at all), they then went on to discuss the superficialities fundamentally.

And so the outcome was a majority in favour of sending the RAF's small, but apparently perfectly formed, assets to join in the carnage. It looks suspiciously like bombing to impress - not the enemy, who is very good at dodging bombs - but our allies. And while those in favour of bombing might also acknowledge the need for collateral diplomacy, we wait to see whether the approach of "softening up the enemy" beforehand will be effective. (Who was it said that when it comes to this type of diplomacy you should "speak softly but carry a big stick"?)

Little did the Voice Collective know that their performance would provoke me to anything more than an appreciation of their musicality (especially their rendition of Joni Mitchell's Carey) but their model should be adopted more widely. There may be, as commentators note, the beginnings of collective action to bring stability to Syria in the form of exploratory talks in that nice little hotel in Vienna but, apparently, progress is slow. Perhaps what they need is a deadline - like a forthcoming gig for which they must prepare. And it might be inspirational to have the Voice Collective flown in each morning to sing I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing in Perfect Harmony...before the sessions begin (translations could be visually projected). And at the top of the agenda could be printed a permanent motto: "When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will be at peace". Jimi Hendrix, 1942 - 1970. He was only a musician and he didn't live long, but he sure knew stuff.