It's Friday afternoon. The sky above the railway station is gradually fading from white through grey to black. It's been a busy week, full of meetings and discussions and decisions and brain strain. My piece on the ACE consultation drew some very personal comments - I don't mind people disliking my ideas, but take criticism of my prose style to heart! I've just finished a letter in support of some artists from the Eastern Cape in South Africa who've been refused visas to travel to take part in a major education programme in the Spring. A pint or a gin and tonic wouldn't go amiss, to be honest.
Days like this I will often go home and have a little noodle around on the guitar to decompress. I like to sing songs, but nothing relaxes me quite like just playing. (It's a non-aggressive way of getting the effect a game of fiveaside has on me.) There was a great article in The Guardian about amateur music making, by Charlotte Higgins, this week which really made me want to do this with some other people too. The people just sounded as if they were having so much fun and getting so much depth out of the experience. Play is, after all, a very serious thing.
Charlotte meets a number of orchestras and groups, and also communicates her own passion for playing. I'm no classical music buff, so my music making is in another sphere, which makes it hard to avoid the '40something-guitar-dad' cliches when even thinking about playing with other people. I don't mind inflicting those on my family through the walls, but would draw the line at strangers. (I think of my staff here like family, obviously, hence our inflicting the Management Team Ukulele Orchestra on them at one party.)
One person says something I really empathise with: learning a piece is "a life's project: even if I do learn [the notes] of the D minor Partita, that's just the beginning of interpreting and understanding that piece". He adds: "I'm struggling to express this, but there is something about playing that is wholly good for myself, uncomplicatedly good, in a moral sense. When you play music you are an agent, you are doing something rather than being a consumer or a subject. For me, it's part of being a human being."
The size and significance of the amateur sector is, I think, increasingly realised. The point the article makes is that quality is there too. It sometimes just goes with the love of music rather than the presence of payment. Charlotte Higgins has followed up with a blog asking for details of amateur groups - hopefully there'll be an upsurge in numbers of people using their instrumental skills.
Perhaps there is something in the air for 2010, about 'expressive lives'. The choir my wife and daughter sing in, which I've mentioned before, have started a 'sing for your supper' session at Arc in Stockton and had 80 people there last week - families of all ages and backgrounds making music together just for pleasure. I also had a lovely letter from a user of the Take It Away scheme recently, thanking us for making it possible for him to buy a banjo - 50 years since he gave up playing. The gentleman's aim was to be able to play it by his next (76th) birthday.
There, that's reminded me of the transformative power of the arts up enough to drive home now - do read the articles.