Are you listening?
“Sugar is not so sweet to the palate as sound to the healthy ear.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ahh, the ears. What wonderful instruments. God’s satellite dishes, direct to our mind. They take in a complex myriad of sound waves, sort them out, and feed them to the brain for processing. And when the brain processes these signals they can produce profound emotions and feelings. They can cause physical changes in your body, a racing of your heart, a surge of adrenaline, a shot of endorphins. They can spur memories and thoughts, and they can affect your spirit and your soul.
Lets Get Physical
“Jazz will endure just as long as people hear it through their feet instead of their brains.”
– John Philip Sousa
Physically your body feels these wonderful waves, this music, vibrating and pulsing through you. Whether you’re at a concert hall or a club, part of your listening experience is the physical feel of music. Bass players, for example, often talk about how the playing of their instrument affects different parts of the body, depending on the frequency, resonating between your eyes, in your chest and belly, and in your groin.
There’s also another important part of the physical response to music. Dance. Good music can make almost anyone move to it. From the primal to the refined, dancing has always been the best way to connect with music more completely.
Come to think of it, who out there hasn’t played air guitar or air baton in response to that piece of music that just didn’t allow you to stay still? For me, more often than not I’m slapping my legs, knees or chest with my hands, turning my body into a percussion instrument, playing along in syncopation with whatever I’m listening to. I’ve got the bruises to prove it.
“Music is the effort we make to explain to ourselves how our brains work. We listen to Bach transfixed because this is listening to a human mind.”
Intellectually, music can prod you to think, to imagine. Close your eyes and let the music paint its pictures on your mental canvas, creating a world that is unique to you. Sometimes it’s as the composer may have intended it, and sometimes quite different. Your personal history can sometimes color how you hear music, and in what ways and to what extent it affects you. In other words, your own private Idaho. Music can spur memories from the past vividly. How many times, when you hear an old song, have you had that distinct memory of a place and time, remember who you were with, what you were doing and how you felt? The intellect can marvel at the technical abilities of musicians performing pieces of music that were not written for mere mortals to be able to play. It can discern the techniques performers may use and make instantaneous judgments as to their worth or viability. (On a scale of one to ten, I rate this performance a 6!) Beyond that, I think that we don’t want to let too much brain power into the process of listening to music because it can get in the way. A composer, on the other hand, has to use his or her intellect quite a bit in the process of composing music. We are constantly making choices and decisions which at times are purely intellectual. And ultimately, at some point, the composer has to step away from the piece they’re writing and be able to be objective. To be their own harshest critic. They have to be able to pick it apart, deconstruct it, analyze and edit it and make impartial decisions about it, and be ready, willing and able to scrap it and start from scratch, if need be. In other words, keep your ego out of the way. All in the effort to bring forward a little piece of art that bubbles up from deep within you with the hope of eventually being heard and enjoyed.
Heart And Soul
“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.”
Emotion, passion and soul. This is where the proverbial rubber hits the road. For me this is essentially what music is and always has been about. The emotional connection. Music can provoke happiness, sadness, fear and anger. It can provide comfort and hope, or loneliness and despair; joy and wonder, or fear and loathing. Remember when you first heard a particular piece of music that gave you goose bumps? Or a lump in your throat? As a child I remember hearing music so visceral and vital to me, it was literally shouting at me, saying “I am a part of you. Pick up that damn guitar and learn how to play me, learn and understand the power I hold”. I listened. I am still learning and understanding. One thing I do understand is that the commonality of all great music, no matter what the genre, is the passion and soul that leaps out of it and grabs you and takes you on a journey that you’re not likely to forget.
Oh what magic music can weave! That special connection a composer has with fusing the art of creating music with emotion and passion, and his or her ability to harness that, write it down, and pass it on to the performers, who in turn share it with the listener. The attention and importance paid to it by both composer and performer. The dedication to writing and performing a piece of music which transcends and transfixes its listener time and time again, perhaps generation to generation. Music that can hold the power to heal physical and psychological wounds. Music that has the power to soothe the savage beast, or awaken the beast within. Ain’t it a wonderful thing!
“prefessor” David Robbins