By Avis Cardella
There’s a fascinating show going on right now in the Duveen Gallery at London’s Tate Britain, museum.
It’s titled, War Damaged Musical Instruments, by the sound artist Susan Philipsz, and, as its name implies, consists of musical instruments that have been damaged in war.
The show includes bugles that once were played in the battle of Waterloo, a saxophone from WWII, and a cavalry trumpet salvaged from a sunken ship, among other pieces.
The sounds that now emanate from these instruments are broadcast throughout the gallery via fourteen mounted horn speakers.
Reviewers have weighed in on the show describing it as eerie, moving, and “as uplifting as it is mournful.”
That men took musical instruments into war is not surprising. Music has performed many functions in the theater of the battlefield, from serving to rally the troops, to acting as a calming balm in the trenches.
Sometimes, when we feel damaged, it helps to know that we can give ourselves over to music.
For F, the healing power of music became evident not while in the trenches of warfare but when he found himself in metaphorical trenches.
“I went through a period where I was not particularly happy, he says.
After his bout with melancholia, he began an “intensive phase” of listening to music, and discovered it was “an enormous driving force” like “opening doors to inner well-being.”
Although F had listened to music before—“in the background, like a piece of furniture, maybe”—today it’s his quotidian drug of choice. When he isn’t listening he misses it, and when he is listening it’s with a renewed connection and intensity.
“I hear everything I heard before, but now I’m a better listener,” he explains. “My attention to details, lyrics, and my overall perception has changed.”
There’s a lot of talk right now about how music impacts the brain, and neuroscientists and researchers are studying the way listening can alter our moods.
All the more reason to believe that musical instruments in war zones served a profound purpose.
Maybe these scientific investigations can confirm F’s findings, too.
Still, I like how F, having faced his own personal conflicts with the aid of music, sums things up in his own unscientific way.
“I firmly believe in music,” he says. “I firmly believe in music forming your heart, and soul and brain. I strongly believe that something is left in your heart and soul from good music.”
Thanks to F for sharing his story.