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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Music, and ultimate reality

This post may seem a bit off-topic, but bear with me. It has occurred to me that music is one "force of nature" that still defies any explanation. It exists, as it were, in a realm all its own - where it needs no explanation to exist. Now I was given a book by my son, Ben, several years ago, called The Music Instinct, by Philip Ball, which was an excellent book, and attempted to do just that - to explain music. I enjoyed reading the book, and I must say that it did provide some fascinating insights into music, and how important it is to us, to the human race.

Now "music" is one of those things that has insidiously crept into our consciousness, and which most of us take for granted. It is used (typically against our wishes) in so many ways that we typically try to "tune it out" when confronted with it - for example, someone thought that it would be a great idea if, when put on hold, we would be subjected to whatever music someone else deemed pleasing to our ears. Now I am quite convinced that there was research done which showed just what type of music would be pleasing to persons kept on hold. Well, as one who was not a research subject, I take exception to this notion. In fact, I find that I usually react negatively to any type of "canned music", much as I do to laugh tracks on TV shows. But that is at the root of the dilemma, which is that music, when presented in such fashion tends not to be true music.

What then is real music?

Real music is something else entirely. It is the language of the ages. It is the difference between canned Muzack, and sitting down to listen to a performance of Beethoven's sixth symphony, with a live orchestra. Or it is the participatory music of worship, or the music of street musicians, regardless of how good or bad they may be.

If you can recall the first concert that you attended. Recall how the music made you feel. How the performers on their instruments, the singers and dancers made you feel as though you were now part of something greater, something more profound. And this I submit to you is what makes all the difference - it is the choice to participate, either as a performer, or as a listener, or observer. This is what true music is about.

And it is this type of music which really helps define us as a species. All persons, in all ages and all places on earth have music. It is as intrinsic as language. It has been a part of us as long as we've been a species. And, I must submit, that music is a gift to us from our creator. I cannot define it any other way.

But to what uses have we put music? We have used it to communicate that for which language alone will not do. It has come to define who and what we are, it has become a means of communicating some essence of ourselves to others (e.g patriotic music or military marches or the festive music of weddings), it can be the vehicle to reach outside ourselves, and across the chasm of time.

Fair or not, there are a few of us whose sense of music seems to go beyond ordinary mortals (Praetorius, Palestrina, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Dvorak, Chopin, Mahler, Barber, Morricone, Shore to name but a very few). And there are those of us who "can't carry a note with a bucket", but who nonetheless are touched by the grace of those musicians among us who can. And what a world it would be without music! What a sterile and lifeless existence.

And so, now I've come to my own novels, and the role that music plays in them. In my first book, Laminar Flow, I introduce music in the prologue, as well as the final chapter (not the epilogue). And it is music with a purpose all its own. In the second book, Coaptation, music seems to be missing (other than it is mentioned in Chapter One), but then it reemerges as a "character" in Chapter Sixteen and Eighteen. But in the third book, Turbulence and Restoration, the "character" of music does emerge, and is actually important to the story. Though not thought of as a real "character" music does play a role throughout. Just something to think about as you read.

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