Musings on Music. Why Do We Listen?

Where words fail, music speaks. – Hans Christian Andersen

Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent. – Victor Hugo


O come, let us sing for joy to the LORD,
            Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation.

– Psalm 95:1 (NASB)

What music do you like?  Pop, R&B, Classical, Blue Grass, Jazz, and many other mentions of types and genres of this thing we know of as music evoke memories, reactions, and emotional responses – and for good reasons.  (My guess is there’s nothing you don’t already know here, and if you want the short version, feel free to skip to the end.)  I think it might boil down to the representative spirit that accompanies such accompaniment of tunes.

Culture is one of the biggest influences, as I see it – if not THE biggest.  From infancy to adulthood, we experience the environs and surroundings of familial, and perhaps regional, sounds from folk and tradition (and other similar things).  Culture is a multi-faceted thing itself and blends in and through the elements below.  A measure or two from a particular instrument might take you on a journey representative of some far off place.  If you heard a zither, of what would you think?  If I were to mention bagpipes, where or what might come to mind?  The migration of people and the expansion of internet capabilities have led to cultural influences, including music, to cross tangible and intangible barriers and be more freely shared.  Different cultures meet, clash, mix, and maybe blend.  And you also get cultures within cultures.  Some examples might be the British invasion (musically), Christian reggae, and country rock.

Perhaps the message in the music could be called the driving force for the cultural influence, though I wonder if vice versa might be truer.  It’s not just a sharing of a note, chord, or tune, but something more I think – especially for the listener’s benefit.  If you think of a decade or era of human history, there’s likely to be specific sounds or tunes that epitomize that timeframe and perhaps specific events.  If you hear mention of the ‘70s or ‘60s, what comes to mind?  If I were to say Big Band or Louis Armstrong, where or when would that take your mind?  Some tunes represent those times, but they do because of the happenings in those times and what the artists wanted to convey and express. Live easy, enjoy life, make love not war, etc.

Emotions are near with listening to musical pieces and usually associated with both culture and message.  In reading the lyrics, “We didn’t start the fire, It was always burning…”, could you have continued to the next line or did you hear the tune?  There’s reason to aid memorization by putting a tune to it; it helps the recall of that fact.  Have you felt anything when hearing Andrea Bocelli singing “Time to Say Goodbye”?  Have you ever watched a silent movie?  You need that piano to help make it interesting and move along the story.  There is a score or soundtrack for a reason; it helps evoke and bring to mind emotions the movie makers intend.  A romantic scene would probably be boring without some stirring strings.

Motivation beyond just emotional, cultural, and spiritual is another facet.  I mention this because I also work out to music.  So it seems that however the artist may have been motivated for the song, the music still helps motivate me on.  To extrapolate as the listener, music does tend to be an impetus for an outcome, and in that sense motivates those who listen.  The cavalry charges after the bugle blown.  Revelry and taps accompany the flag flown.  Some songs call for introspection, to be awed by beauty, or some other silent action.  Others are more stirring.

There is a spiritual-ness I think to music that can help tie message with culture, message with emotion, and such.  Sure, there is the term Spirituals in reference to songs categorized as worship songs with religion.  I mean it in this case in a general sense, not tied to one religion or another.  But there is no doubt that religions around the world use songs as a form of worship.  In fact, if you look at the Bible, it talks about using songs as a form or expression of worship and not confining worship to only songs.  I think if one were to ponder on the effect of a song (any song), there would be more found than just the mechanics and previously mentioned aspects. 

I mentioned a representative spirit in relation to music, which seemingly brings it all together.  I mean that to describe our tie and reason to why we enjoy music.  Each, or a combination, of the aspects mentioned above are our reasons for what’s on our playlist. Each song resonates and ties to a profound element that we find within ourselves.   We’ve identified with some spirit of that song, whether it was the musicality of the tune or message or emotion or culture reference, etc.  Memories come easily when associated tunes catch our ear.  It does seem to be part of the soundtrack compilation of one’s life, a soundtrack that is ever changing.

Since music can speak to us deeply, shouldn’t we then be mindful about what type of music or content we’re enjoying? What music encourages you or you find uplifting?

Had “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” by Journey stuck in my head; hope you don’t mind I chose to include a link for it. 🙂

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Published by Knight Trainer Second

I love games, outdoor things, playing with my kids and enjoying life. I grew up mostly in Arizona, moved to Alaska two years after college for a new job, moved to Maryland for a better job, got married at some point, and now have 5 kids.

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