20 September 2006


Well, if I'm going to recant, I might as well do it properly I guess.


That was a lie in which I said music has no power to change a life. For that might have been truly said, were music only the sounds of notes; but music also holds the power of words, and when combined with truly inspiring language, becomes a method of transforming the human heart more powerful than either on its own.

Alright, no more imitating Plato, I promise. It sounds too stilted anyway. I've just been wanting to use that line ever since I read it. :D Anyways, Marisa brings up a good point in her post when she uses the hymns as a counter-example to my blanket statement that "there's no way to get any specific message across" in music. I'll admit, this statement is a pretty good example of what I mean by a spherical chicken. I didn't bother to fully explain myself, when obviously explanation was needed. Contrary to what this statement seems to say, I love music. My roommates can attest to the fact that I can burst into random song from any phrase you give me.

Essentially, I see music as divided into a hierarchy. In the top of this tier is music with words. This is a category that hymns fall under, and I have to agree that a well-written hymn often has greater power to move the soul than anything else I know. The words to such a piece are poetry on their own--poetry is the predecessor of music in that it has rhythm and tonal qualities. Just ask someone who knows Greek to read the Illiad to you in the original tongue. (Thanks, Dr. Griggs!) There's a rhythm and pitch to the words that arises from the way the syllables are set just so. Music is merely an extension, an amplification of poetic qualities in this case, enhancing the meaning of the words that are there. Indeed, in one of my classes we theorized that Adamic probably has musical qualities to it which allow additional meaning to be conveyed outside the words. I would place music with words at a higher expressive level than even poetry by itself.

Next in my estimation comes music with a story. By story, I mean either that the music itself is a narrative (Peter and the Wolf, for example) or that has a history behind it (Cristofori’s Dream, or even Fur Elise). This music conveys a less specific meaning than music with words, and requires some outside knowledge in order to be enjoyed. When you listen to one of these pieces, you might think it is "nice" or interesting, but until you find out the story from an outside source, it's unlikely that you will gain the specific nuances of meaning intended. As you might deduce from this, the lowest music on my hierarchy is music without a story. Sure, it creates a general atmosphere, but you can't communicate any very specific idea with any hope that it will be reliably conveyed to your audience. You can create sadness, but not very well the distinction between grief, loneliness, and rejection. I believe these differences are important, so music without a story just seems useless to me.

My point I guess is that, as a form of expression, music is incomplete. Music is great at creating an atmosphere and even at painting a general scene. However, it is unable to provide a direct and specific message without the assistance of words. But I willingly grant that music can greatly enhance the power of words. Maybe the reason I get annoyed with it so often is because I don't really understand how to create it and why some pieces are more powerful than others, unlike words, which are more democratic because everyone can see how they work.


The Girl in the Other Room said...

Er, Big Sister? This is Little Sister with a big pokey stick. *poke poke* Are you alive? Your blog appears to be dead ... *wind whistles through the trees*

Thirdmango said...

Whoa now, I'm glad I happened upon this, those are some very interesting thoughts on music, and a very interesting view on how music affects us. Now as a precursor, if I misinterpret anything you had to say, I apologize. As someone who is going into a profession that is very music related, and being as how music and the psychology of music is some of main areas of study I have a lot to say on the subject of music. But first I must give some background. When I listen to music the things I listen for are rythmns, tonal coloring and complexities. After all of that and all the rest, the last thing I come to is the meaning behind the words, so almost to say, I am on the exact oppisite spectrum as you are. I find I have very little ability to comprehend the meaning of words.

Now as you are an English major I can see where the words would be very important, if not the most important part, and I can understand where you can say that you can't get a specific message across in a song. In fact I agree with you quite a bit, but because I find that music isn't there for someone to relay a specific message from one person to another. It's there to have many different interpretations, and many different feelings expressed and so each of us will take a very different and very valid meaning from each song into our own lives. I can attest to this personally.

Now as for moving the soul, that goes into the different interpretations catergory and I contend that almost any type of music has the power to move the soul, if you don't agree then I'd want to have a go at you and see if you haven't actually found your niche in the music world, or in other words, you haven't found the music that can move your soul, as it is there somewhere.

I apologize if my thoughts are quite scattered, I understand music more then I understand speech. Now as to your final thought and allow me to only take a snippet of your wording, "My point I guess is that, as a form of expression, music is incomplete... However, it is unable to provide a direct and specific message without the assistance of words." I agree with this only if the artist is trying to get across a specific point. For instance, if the artist makes a song and wants to convey the taste of cheese, and you listen to it and you don't think of cheese then the artist has failed. However most musicians understand and do not try to convey one particular message, they put feeling into what they make and/or play and they leave the interpretation and meanings up to the listener. In this instance sometimes I think of words in song almost as a hinderance, as it doesn't allow for as many differing opinions on the same song.

It is in the art of the expression between the artist and the listener that compels me to it. That the artist and listener can take the same piece of work and find two completely different and relevant meanings to the same thing. And even sometimes the interpretation of both can be shared in the same realm. Music isn't for the definition, it's for the feeling and personal discovery.

Anyways, sorry that was so long, I am glad I wandered upon this, and I hope your email alerts you to this so it doesn't just gather dust. Now I can say and I hope I do not sound prideful because it is not the intention, but I truely believe that due to my love for music, that I have one of the most eclectic and wide ranging musical tastes in the valley. Anyways, that's all from me, if you would like to discuss it further and don't want to have to use blog comments to communicate, I would be happy to do so, I'll leave my email as I'm fine with doing so, it's jonfairbanks@gmail.com