I caught the second half of Hearing Voices on the radio the other night while driving back from a meeting, and listened to the whole thing on iPlayer yesterday. Clergy in urban areas encounter people with mental illness all the time, and I was no exception when I was in Hackney. We meet people in that territory of pastoral care, which is not a personal relationship, but neither does it confirm to the tightly policed boundaries of most modern professions: our professional work happens through unstructured and informal encounter. So though I have not experienced mental illness myself, nor do I have the depth of expertise of those whose work it is to care for mentally ill people, i think I have some empathy.
I found Hearing Voices quite extraordinary. The music of Jocelyn Pook that I already knew had an eerie beauty, combined with powerful bursts of energy; that style. combined with the words, spoken and sung, of sufferers from mental illness, had an effect which I found surprisingly hopeful. The speakers/singers take us through the fear, the passion, even the humour of mental illness. But while they are describing things beyond their control, and the often unavailing attempts of the medical profession to help, the music is providing a shape and a structure which makes it possible to descend with the speakers into their inner chaos. The music makes a meaning even out of the experiences of meaninglessness.
If I’ve tempted you, it’s available till Tuesday 11th, here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01p2qp6. (By the way, if you’re not a fan of Schoenberg you might want to skip the first 45 minutes.)