You’ve probably heard about Marcel Proust’s triggering of his memory by eating French cookies known as madeleines. Well, since I’m diabetic, I have to use something else to trigger my memories. In that department, I find that, for me, nothing works better than music.
The police bagpipe player (above) was practicing a song that suddenly hit me between the eyes. I walked up to her and startled her by asking the name of the song she was playing. One of her colleagues answered for her with something that sounded like “Saigon.” He mentioned that it was played in a movie called Empire something. That’s when it all came back to me: The song is called “Suo Gân,” which means lullaby in Welsh. The movie is Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun (1989), based on J.G. Ballard’s autobiographical novel of the same name about spending World War Two as a child in a Japanese concentration camp near Shanghai.
I love the song. You can watch it on YouTube performed by the Kings College Choir.
I’ve seen Empire of the Sun several times and even read Ballard’s book. There is something incredibly beautiful about so many Welsh songs that I plan to write a posting about some of my favorites in the next week or so. If you feel starved to hear some now, watch the film How Green Was My Valley (1941), which features some beautiful examples.
What exactly did hearing a few notes from “Suo Gân” do for me when I heard them played by a police bagpiper at last Sunday’s Irish Fair in Long Beach? It sent me back to Wales, which I visited twice in the 1970s. Welsh is the most musical language I have ever heard; and I loved wandering around listening to people speak in places like Betws-y-Coed, Conwy, and Abergavenny.
Although I am a person of words and literature, music strikes me at my innermost core—even when I hear just a few notes.