Random Blog Clay Feet: September 30, 2009
Feel free to leave your own comments or questions. If you would like to be in contact with me without having it published let me know in your comment and leave your email address and I will not publish that comment.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What Is Music?

Yesterday I had a question come into my mind that I couldn't answer.

What is music?

I mean, what really defines whether something is music or just noise. I am not looking for the passionate responses of conservatives who are eager to share their prejudices against music they don't like. What I am curious about is very literally what makes the difference between simply talking or other forms of sounds and what is generally recognized by most humans as being music.

Why does extending pitches using words (or without words) make music so different than simply speaking? And obviously there seems to be the need to string these various pitches one after another in various lengths of time with some rhythmic organization to make it more recognizable as being music.

And beyond that, why does music has such enormous impact on our psyche and our feelings at times whereas simply speaking seldom is able to deliver nearly such impact?

I couldn't answer these questions yesterday for whatever reasons. So I simply left it hanging and then frankly forget that it had ever crossed my mind until this morning. Then something that happened last night at chorus practice came back into my attention and I heard God maybe say to me, “That is the real definition of music.”

During our weekly practice period of the Barbershop chorus and just after the break time last night, our director, Tom wanted to share with us a video clip of a quartet he sang with during a contest some time back. He and his son were privileged to sing with two champion musicians making up a quartet where they sang two songs in contest that made a very deep impression on him. Both Tom and his son Tim work together in directing our chorus. This man has a deep passion for people and is very effective at making people feel good about themselves and affirming them. His spontaneous comments and affirmations seem to just come from nowhere at times and creates bonds in people's minds and hearts that keep them wanting to come back week after week, year after year.

Music is a very important part of life for both of these men, and even though his son is adopted they share a deep love for Barbershop music and great respect for each other. Tim is currently in training to be a fully accredited judge for contests following in the footsteps of his father who has been a judge for many years. They have very different personalities and styles of directing, but they both have great skill and passion both for the music and for encouraging men to be inspired to be better than the average.

The video clip that Tom wanted to share with us last night was of a song this quartet sang called “Singing with Dad”. Before he showed it to us he explained that during this presentation he felt intense emotions like he had never experienced in his life before. They became so caught up in the music together with the two champion singers on either side of them that they didn't even think about the choreography needed to express the song correctly, they just poured themselves into the music and let whatever gestures happen that felt natural in the process. Interestingly, as we watched the replay it appeared that their gestures matched very well with those of the other two men who sang with them.

As all of the local chorus watched this video with great interest, especially given the context of the introduction comments from our director, I began to see some of why he said that he had never felt this much excitement in his whole life – which is saying a great deal for him. For the words of the song conveyed quite dramatically the emotions of a person who had come to deeply appreciate a common passion for quartet music that he shared with the passion of his own father who had sung for years in a quartet before him. The song talked about the joy and satisfaction of singing in the same quartet with his own dad – which had great added emphasis because in fact, what the song was describing so accurately was actually taking place in real time as this father-son team lived out just what they were singing about.

Watching the video was compelling and deeply moving for me and maybe for others there. I sensed various levels of recognition and emotional connection among the men watching the video, and the spontaneous applause after the second song was finished spoke of more than just polite praise for a good rendition. The emotion in the room by that time had become significantly noticeable and could not easily be put into words effectively.

This morning as that memory came back to me I seemed to hear God say,

Remember that question you had yesterday about music? Well, here is at least part of the answer. Music is the means whereby passion is wrapped about words that gives the potential to bring them to life, to take them into a whole different dimension of existence. Music is the means whereby words can take on enormous power to express far more effectively what the heart is feeling but the head simply cannot convey effectively through simply words or any other means.

Thank-you. That answer rings so true, especially for people who's lives are wired a little more for music beyond the average person. I have always felt that music could allow me to convey things that was impossible to do in any other way. And I also intuitively knew that music could have the potential to also bond me to other people in ways that simply cannot happen otherwise. Likewise, music also has the ability to convey the presence of emotions and bonds already in place that words simply cannot come close to conveying. And on top of that, when words and music are properly synchronized and are congruent with each other, the amazing power of music actually amplifies and intensifies those emotions and bonds – as clearly seen in that video we watched last night.

As I watched the father and son standing close to each other and pouring themselves into the music that talked about a deep connection between a son and a dad sharing the same passion for music, it was unmistakable that they meant every word they were singing and more. And it could also be seen that the emotional connection between them was actually intensifying through that public expression of this emotion that they were describing. Their feelings were being synchronized, their words were congruent with all the other forms of expression surrounding those words and the effect was far more powerful than simply trying to speak and describe what their hearts wanted to convey or even to sing about something they were not personally experiencing.

This potentially speaks volumes to me. I have struggled all of my life to both listen to my own heart and to find ways to allow it effective expression. My communication skills for allowing my heart access to the outside have been severely damaged as many people's have been, so it is no surprise that I feel a great deal of frustration when people don't understand me or misinterpret my motives or confuse what I am trying to say. Sometimes we long for other people to just be able to read our mind, but we know that we have to find other ways of connecting with other hearts.

Maybe this is telling me that the passion for music that filled much of my life when I was a teenager has been largely suppressed and is now unused along with my heart's ability to connect with others very effectively. Maybe the passion that God implanted in the heart can only find more efficient expression when it is allowed to be released in the context of music that is congruent with the inner passions. I am not trying to address the issues of good music verses bad music here. Clearly there are different forms and effects of music. But at its core I can see more clearly again that music itself has the amazing capacity to transfer or even induce ideas, thoughts and feelings from one heart into others that simply cannot occur by any other means.

So I continue to chip away at the barriers and fears and obstacles that keep my own heart caged in and also prevent me from connecting more directly with the passion that flows from the heart of the One who created music to begin with. I have heard that heaven is filled with music. And if the above insights are true, then I can see why that would have to be the case. I have seen some people who are so afraid of the enormous power of music to affect our souls that they run from it instead of learning to understand it or how to relate to it effectively.

I know that I miss very much the times when I participated in musical groups that seemed to have some level of closer integration through the music and praise that we presented together. And I look forward to times in the future when I may be able to experience similar experiences that are even richer and deeper and more purely defined so that my own heart will be able to find freer expression and be able to connect with other hearts and the heart of God as it is designed to do.