by Richard Whittall · February 28, 2011
I’ve found the problem with trying to draw connections between two distinct, unrelated professions is that it’s almost always a zero-sum affair. Comparing apples and oranges in the end still leaves you with nothing but apples and oranges. If I were to tell you for example that sometimes watching Barcelona is like watching an improvised fugue, with contrapuntal subjects weaving in and out of each other over the cantus firmus of the holding midfielder, it might sound profound but it doesn’t tell you anything new about either music or football. This kind of synesthesia is useful only when trying to craft especially pretentious metaphors.
This is why I have tended to avoid discussion of my musical life as a countertenor when writing about football, though the two have long intertwined. When I first graduated from university in Montreal, I helped relieve nervous tension ahead of solo performances by watching Champions League matches at my favourite cafe, EuroDeli on Boulevard St. Laurent. When I went to audition for schools in England just over a year ago, I visited Guardian Towers and ended up on Football Weekly one day before singing Schubert and Debussy for the Royal College of Music (my school auditions were successful; I’m still waiting to hear back from the FW team).
There is also a certain joy though when the two interests overlap. It pleased me to no end when my 80-year-old-plus Welsh voice teacher, who has taught more than her fair share of accomplished opera stars and concert soloists and personally known musical nobodies like Benjamen Britten, confessed to me that she had to stay away from Swansea matches because otherwise she would have gone “out of control” and ruined her voice. And there was a particularly special moment at the annual Tafelmusik sing-along Messiah in Toronto’s Massey Hall when I looked up at the final chord of the “Hallelujah” chorus to see a man in his thirties holding an Arsenal scarf aloft.
But the one area that I think my experience in music could really help is finding music for game or player clips on YouTube. It’s a universal in football that the only people who take the time to find every single Dennis Bergkamp goal on film and then edit them together into an attractive looking YouTube-length clip listen to either emocore, pop schlock, or trance/house music. It’s hard to fathom; anecdotal evidence (always the sturdiest kind) has long led me to believe that football people have fairly decent musical tastes. Yet apparently the goals of Matt LeTissier, one of the greatest natural English players in this half of the 20th century (so say I), are worthy of Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out.”
This to me is like choosing to walk down the aisle to Ke$ia. I don’t think I’m being silly. One of the names we’ve long given to the game of football is Beautiful. Why shouldn’t beautiful images be set to beautiful music? The essentially quality of both is enhanced, something I’ve recently discovered by listening to baroque music while watching games on my computer at home. Last weekend for example, during the lead up to Phil Neville’s decisive game-winning penalty against Chelsea last weekend, Zadok the Priest came up on my iTunes player. Handel’s expectant arpeggios accompanied Neville’s nervous placing of the ball, and finally, after he scored and had just walked up to the crowd, the choir entered on a double forte just as Neville stuck out his arms to Everton’s supporters.
Mozart + Matt Le Tissier. Slightly edited footage taken from this YouTube clip.
Writing about it does it no justice. It was magical. The shouts of the announcer and the crowd dancing over the Handel’s regal chords; I wanted more. Hungary beating England 6-3 over Shostakovich’s symphonic music. The opening chorus from Bach’s cantata 140 over highlights of Holland’s 2-0 defeat of Brazil in the 1974 World Cup. The utter, stunning beauty of LeTissier’s best goals set to Mozart. We need to flood YouTube with these clips, both because decent football deserves decent music, and because I feel a lot of this music makes sense when held up against the game. It’s a big ask to get a kid to sit still in a concert hall and listen to Beethoven, but try planting one of his string quartets all over his Barça highlights. A few might jump for the mute button, but I bet far less than if it were Nickelback.
Another possibility: Britten + Holland v. Argentina, 1974 World Cup.
Were there a career in finding the perfect music for the perfect game or player, I would humbly submit my CV. As it stands though, I don’t know how one does this. Perhaps you do and can help. We can set up a Tumblr together. You make the clips, I pick the music, we post up and host the vids. Eventually others will join in and find even better musical/football partners. And then hopefully the day will come when I and all other football-loving, trained musicians can finally say yes, we’ve found the definitive shady bit in the Venn diagram between classical music and modern football, and it’s awesome. Bach, whose music contrary to public perception is as wide and embracing as any ever written, would approve.
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