Music and Agriculture

At the Harmony in Food and Farming conference, renowned conductor and musician, Sir John Elliot Gardiner spoke of the true meaning of the word harmony: “the combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce a pleasing effect”. This stems from the idea of the state of being in agreement or concord. Farming, he explained, is both a business and an art. Much modern farming ignores this truth, but it is important to remember that nature is not a machine powered by agrochemicals, and maintained by toxic sprays. The art of agriculture instead lies in working with the grain of natural not against it.

Sir John Elliot tells us that you have to observe and then follow the processes of nature as they reveal themselves to you on your specific plot of land. Once you’ve grasped these principles you need to learn how to woe nature into working for you. You then have to balance all of that with inconvenient factors – such as market prices, bank balances and climate change. This, he argues, is not dissimilar to the challenges one faces as a conductor.  Music, by its very nature, is fluid – up in the air, refusing to be pinned down. It only comes into being when you have the right number of skilled people to play it. “Oppose them and you’ll end up with a sterile performance – a bit like applying agrochemicals and destroying the soil structure of your farm. Instead, just as you observe nature at work and what’s it’s trying to tell you, you need to listen to your musicians – how they play interact and make sure you adjust to what they bring to the party.”

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