The eminent conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner will be taking part in our Harmony in Food and Farming Conference on the 10th and 11th July 2017. Along with Dame Ellen MacArthur and other speakers, Gardiner will explore the philosophy and principles of Harmony and the connection between the mathematical laws which inform the musical scale, the movement of celestial bodies and the principles and practices of harmonious agriculture.

Why did you decide to accept an invitation to a conference exploring the principles of harmony in food and agriculture?

First, because it is so intriguing – I can’t imagine that there has ever been an equivalent conference with [Harmony] as its theme; and second, because a serious discussion of the way to achieve a harmonious rapport between food production and agriculture is surely long overdue. One way of describing harmony in music is as the juxtaposition or synthesis of the disparate – both in the vertical plane, in the structure of chords and intervals, and in the horizontal plane, in terms of the relationship of intervals and chords to one another.

You could say the same of agriculture – soil structure and biodynamic vitality (the ‘vertical’ dimension) stand in a symbiotic relationship to crop and animal husbandry (the ‘horizontal’ dimension). The problems start to pile up when these two dimensions are at odds with one another. So much of agriculture today is out of kilter with the principles of Harmony, and as a result, it tends to ignore and become detached from the interconnected nature of the universe.

Tell us a little more about your links with agriculture and the origins and development of the sustainable agriculture movement?

I was lucky enough to grow up on a family farm in north Dorset where both my parents were committed to the principles and practice of organic farming. My father was a founding member of the Soil Association and, unusual for the time, a proponent of integrated land management, balancing tree planting with agriculture –which leads to humus enrichment and retention of water.

My mother was a trained singer with a gift for improvisation, inspiring us children to invent our own enactments of ancient myths and fairy tales, with bags of imagination and a minimum of fuss. Together they created a strong bond and sense of community with friends and associates in the local area, and over 40 years they built what amounted to a centre of environmental education at Springhead, [where the family farm was located], encompassing the various arts and crafts. I owe them a huge debt for showing me the way that farming, with its seasons and rituals, shares with music the principles of divine harmony and rhythm, and that when harmony and rhythm are combined, they can create the basis of health and wholeness.

You work in a world which is manifestly full of interconnections related to the Harmony philosophy and principles – as a conductor you are quite literally connecting people with their bodies, their voices and the composer of the music – yet even in the musical world it would appear that not much attention has been paid to the ways in which inspiring music connects us to nature and agriculture?

I think you might be underestimating the real concerns of many of the musicians I work with regularly with regard to the food they eat and source, indeed to the concept of wholeness. As hard working skilled performers they know that creativity demands flexibility and a willingness to relinquish even one’s most dearly held ideas if they are contradicted by experiment and experience. Diatonic harmony in music divides between consonance and dissonance. Dissonant notes are struck through the widespread promiscuous use of agrochemicals. Organic and sustainable farming is harmonically consonant with nature.

Photograph: Quincena Musical

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