Tuesday, March 24, 2009


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From the annoyingly catchy commercial jingles I hear coming from my television to the thunderous and powerful crescendos and cadenzas of Beethoven's symphonies, music permeates my everyday life. Music, as defined by the Encarta Online Dictionary is: The art of arranging or making sounds, usually those of musical instruments or voices, in groups and patterns that create a pleasing or stimulating effect. How can such a broad and diverse art be categorized in such a manner? This mechanical and objective definition cannot do much justice to this great, organic and complex art. Music is essential in our daily lives whose being is part of our language and is something in which we are immersed.

Something magical happens when I carefully place my practiced fingers onto the ivory keys of my baby grand piano, or place the spindly and fragile bow onto the surface of the surface of the Evah Pirazzi strings of my French-made violin (a note is played). This note is not just sound, but part of a harmony, the beginning of an arpeggio or a chord leading to the melody of the concerto. The sound that is heard is not just harmonic vibration of a string creating forced resonance within the wooden body of the instrument which amplifies the pitch created, but a connotative word imbued with both the composer's and the artist's soul. It is a live being.

The wondrous ways a single note may be played! A single note may sound sensuous, happy, angry, sad, and all the emotions in between. Like human words, a sentence of notes define a certain emotion and message. It feels like my soul spills out from my fingers as I create these sentences which embrace my attention and demand more soul-sacrifice for their hungry exploit. Their goal is to reach unwary ears and trap them into my world of emotions. The barely audible patter of my fingers running up the fingerboard of my violin express the genius of Mendelssohn's only violin concerto and tells a story of vivid landscapes—and the essence of Western classical music.

Playing the piano, my hands fly across the keyboard as I piece together Chopin's Revolutionary Etude. The passion and anger that Chopin felt after the failure of the November Revolution is written into the notes of his bold statement. I am the medium through which hundred-year-old emotions come alive once more. I feel the sadness, the passion, and the anger and I let it flow through my fingers. No, after having the privilege of reproducing these bold statements, I cannot say that music is a mere sequence of notes and rhythms. Not just classical music alone holds these powerful messages but so do all genres. From sugar-pop to the heavy bass beats of rap, all music expresses universal ideas and emotions.

Music is not only mere percussive instrumental or vocal sounds, but it is also present in our language. While music may create words, words may create melodies. When I was younger, my family returned to Maryland every Christmas break for a family gather. In this noisy environment, I would close my eyes and listen to the rapid exchange of Vietnamese traveling throughout Ba Ngoai and Ong Ngoai's small home. Drowning the distinct separation of words, I would listen to the rise and fall of the pitches and through the melody, I can understand a statement's general meaning (even though I am not very fluent in the language). The lilt of Vietnamese is comforting and every sentence creates a melody that is pleasing to my ear. Like instrumental music, not all language-melodies are pleasing to the ear. Personally, I find German too harsh and spitting and that English is quite bland and rough unless it is softened by an accent (preferably British). Similar to modern composers sampling tunes from older music, accents add color to a language by blending two distinct melodies together to create a variation of the originals. From the pitches and tone languages use, an emotion may deviate. A simple sentence, “She's beautiful!” may express surprise, admiration, sarcasm, and a multitude of other emotions. Words, like a single note imply a plethora of emotion and meanings.

Language and instrumental music offer only a microscopic view of specific regions of music's entire domain. Music resides within the very clockwork of nature itself. We hear animals grunting, chirping, squeaking. And beating out their melodies because they do not have a definite language like humans. They use their melodies to communicate dominance, locations of food, and other essential survival information. Communication to survive is their use of music. The sound of rain beating upon the windowsill to explosions of a molten erupting volcano constitute Mother Nature's personal song which brings peace or destruction to her subjects lives. The seasons, day and nigh, and the solar system move in a fixed rhythm. Some rhythms may die only to be replaced by a new one which only contributes to the never ending score that God has written. The movement of each individual component of the universe, from microscopic atoms to massive stars move sometimes in harmony and other times in cacophony like the harmonies and counter-melodies of a symphony.

The intertwined nature and music is an ancient idea. Thousands of years ago, the Chinese developed the Chinese musical scale and system that incorporated this philosophy. The Chinese mathematically derived their scale from a note, and each varying degree is associated with a cardinal point, the elements, the seasons, the planets, the months, of the year, colors, material,s numbers, parts of the body, animals, smells , and so forth. Also each source of sound, or instrument type is connected with eight elements of nature: metal, stone, silk, bamboo, calabash (gourd), terra cotta (earth), skin, and wood. From the earth comes music and from music comes the expression of creation and existence of all things. The harmonious intertwining in this eternal dance is the philosophy of music and nature.

Listen to the rustling of branches of those overgrown backyard evergreen trees. Listen to someone speaking without attempting to make sense of every word. Listen to the melodies of Mozart, Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, Broadway musicals, and (with a gigantic dosage of guts, stamina, Tylenol, and an extra helping of Vicodin,) Britney Spears. There is always a melody, a rhythm, a message, a sentence, a word, and an emotion written within each beat played. Music is not something that can be separated and eliminated from existence because it is so vast and extensive, its roots extending far into reality. It is not just a series of rhythmic pitches, rather it is emotion and the driving spirit of the universe.

A DICTIONARY DEFINITION: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/music

1 comment:

  1. This is really cool! I’ve never thought of different things such as languages and rustling of leaves as music. I have never looked at music from this perspective. I especially like the part where you mention talking about listening to Vietnamese and listening to the different pitches in it like music. This is very interesting. To me music has always been a lot less deep. If it is catchy, I like it. If it is quality musicianship, I like it. Although my view of music is not nearly as deep as yours, I have come to realize that there is more to music than just being a distraction.