For his latest blog, Padre Robin Richardson was inspired to to write about the power and meaning of music after an experience at Patrol base Shahzad with 5 SCOTS.
There’s something about music that is mysterious and powerful. It can – like poetry – express something of who we are, for what we yearn and from whence we came. Tragedy and celebration alike find within music a language beyond words and for many it is only within song they find their truest voice. From the joy of King Hezekiah upon being healed to the spiritual songs of the cotton fields to the grand choral masterpieces of the Cathedrals people have expressed something of their roots, their struggles and their hopes in music and song throughout all ages. And of course it is something that cuts across generations and cultures alike. When a parent berates their teenager for their taste in music and how ‘it’s not like it was when I was young’ they can be shocked at the response they receive. But is it that surprising when music can say so much about about our deepest needs and issues? Perhaps asking them about how it relates to them and their lives would open rather than close the conversation? I know its something I need to be very aware of when I hear some of the music preferences of young soldiers in my unit!
But why am I going on about music as I sit here on a camp bed, in a tent, in the cold, in Afghanistan? Well, I had an experience just the other evening which was one of those great ones. Unplanned, uncomplicated, but utterly, utterly brilliant. Within our camp there are a number of units all doing their part in providing security for the local population and of partnering the Afghan National Army and Police as they grow and develop. One of these groups here at PB Shahzad comes from 5 SCOTS. They have made what was a rough bit of land and a tumbledown old building quite homely and as I went to visit just a few days back, the first thing I saw was the gentle flecks of light jumping from their fire. Afghan dark is very dark and as I got closer I saw the silhouettes of lads sitting just back from their makeshift fireplace relaxing, playing cards by head-torch and allowing their boots, neatly arranged around the fire dry out after a day in waterlogged ditches. As I arrived and was welcomed into the little group, one of the lads stood, and lifted from a case his bagpipes. The chatter stopped, and as he stepped back all we could see was his outline caught by the firelight. And then, across the camp the music came, clear and loud and ancient. And young men, all well under thirty years old looked, and listened and understood that something was going on that mere words could not adequately express. Spirits soared, home was remembered, proud men sat motionless beside their comrades and I felt, not just close of these men with which I serve, but also the God whom I worship. As the tune finished, respectfully a young corporal said, ‘I think another.’ Again our souls were stirred by the Piper, and as we sat and listened, the hardships these young men are enduring every day and their reasons for being part of the Army, and yes, for some, the stirrings of faith were all being given voice by the Pipes. When the Piper was finished, I stood all that was left for me to say was, ‘God bless fellas and thanks.’ ‘Good night Padre, good to see you.’