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Elizabeth Kinder
Photo: Sophie Ziegler

The Elusive Ethnomusicologist

Elizabeth Kinder’s monthly column

We were out walking the dogs in the park when my friend suddenly squealed and clapped her hands, “Ooh look! Batman!” I looked around but failed to spot Christian Bale.


“Over there, in the tree!” She was literally hopping with excitement.

“Why would Christian Bale be up a tree in Chiswick?”

“Not Christian Bale! Batman! Look!”

And there he was – Batman up a tree in Chiswick. Batman looming from the branches of a horse chestnut that we’ve passed every day for years. Sudden. Unexpected. Batman, the caped crusader!

We scampered over, now a combined age of seven, despite all evidence to the contrary. (There may have been an impression of ‘special needs’).

“Hello Batman!”

“Hello good ladies of the city of Chiswick.” (Proper American accent – only Americans would call Chiswick a city – and proper rubberised kit. We weren’t going to let his dodgy trainers interfere with the thrill).

“What are you doing here Batman?”

“I’m here to protect the good citizens of this fair Chiswick city.”

“Thank you Batman”

“Have you witnessed any crime or wrong doing in this fine park?”

“No Batman!”

“That’s because I’m here to protect you.”

A crowd was beginning to form. Some of it far less credulous than us. “You all right mate?”

“Yes Sir. I’m Batman.”

“Let’s face it mate…”

We left. Reaching the gates we turned to see that Batman, like the moment, had disappeared. But for a brief minute we had been taken out of time, removed from the linear run of things. No longer invisible women with dogs in the park and teenage children at home, we were plucked out of the humdrum to exist in a timeless spell of childlike wonder. I thought ‘I’d like this feeling far more often. I can’t rely on Batman turning up on the off-chance.’

And then I remembered that music gives us that feeling too. Listening as it becomes and fades in every moment, music pulls us into the here and now and then beyond it. It tugs at our emotions and drops us in at any time that we happen to connect with it. The music we love keeps us forever young – in childlike thrall to the tireless wonder of it. And connecting with new music we’re rejuvenated in the flowing stream of evolving culture. Time collapses in on itself, dissolves in that act of listening. And also as it happens, in the act of playing, even though you might be keeping strict time, you’re eased beyond it, moved fluidly through to a timeless moment, slap bang in a place of shared humanity, reminded of what it is to be human.

Keeping time you’re released from it. Playing or listening in isolation you are connected to the whole of humanity: examples of life’s beautiful paradoxes. A bit like the Batman who wasn’t Batman in the park. He couldn’t really save the day. But he did.

Elizabeth Kinder


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