Music, a more efficient language.

Pegleghippie came to visit me for a few days after Christmas, and at lunch one day at a Sbarro’s turned mall pizza place, we began discussing the functionality of our degrees. What is the end goal of his philosophy, of his political science? What contribution do you make to society, short of ground-breaking new philosophical ideas? And as for myself, really, what does a classical musician do to change the world for the better? It’s a continuation of a dead art; musicians are taught, they play, and then they teach. It’s a self-continuing cycle. But what does it really bring to the table as far as the advancement of the human species goes?

So he posed me the interesting question I’m going to extrapolate here. What good is indoor plumbing without music? What’s the point of continuing the species if we don’t have art and music? In the very superficial sense of the question, music and art is the most enjoyable aspect of humanity, of creativity, of the theoretical soul. Some say that love is the greatest human ideal. Shakespeare asserts that music and love and sex are so intertwined… “If music be the food of love, play on” from Twelfth Night. (My girlfriend has this quote tattooed on her wrist, really quite pretty.)

I asked my good friend and violinist Matt if he wanted to play the Handel-Halvorssen Passacaglia for Violin and Cello, a really beautiful piece. In response, he asked if I was really ready to be that intimate with him. Taken aback, I thought I had encountered some homosexual tendencies in my friend, but we went on to have a conversation about the intimacy of sharing music like that… the smaller the chamber ensemble, the more intimate it becomes. Music and art are the truest forms of expression, unhindered by language and representing ideas and concepts and dreams and emotions more perfectly than words can describe.

Who hasn’t been brought to tears by Schindler’s list, or put in a dream-like reverie of childhood days by Monet’s Water-Lily Pond? I don’t speak German or French, yet I can very clearly understand the artist in both situations.

Not to say that language is a hindrance all the time… I mean that the many different languages cast upon us by the builders of Babel have hindered our ability to express ourselves across cultures. There is an art to language, and one might say that music and art are just alternative languages with which to express ourselves.

What is language, really? Symbols, sounds that are processed and recalled. Poetry and Literature are no lesser art forms than the reader.

Literature is very associative; words are associated with pictures. We learned languages by association. We were shown a horse, and told that this was a horse. Instantly our mind is associating horses with that very first picture of a horse we saw. Over time, our mind associates more pictures and experiences of horses into this word. I’m reminded of a bit of software called Photosynth by Microsoft Live Labs when I think of this. A good lecture on Photosynth can be seen here.

Music is less associative; notes can go anywhere, mean anything. Any association with music can be taken in a different direction.

To share expression like that, to be part of such a direct conversation, would indeed be a very intimate experience. Matt maintains that such a duet would have very sexual overtones.

To the point though, Music is (my) greatest expression, and the product of my life and my life’s work. But what good is indoor plumbing if not for music? What good is any profession if there were not such expression as music to enjoy and to create? Is Music then, the goal of human existence? Is it our imperative to express ourselves? If so, then music and art be the meaning of life.

There are those that will contend with me after reading this that music and art are simply enjoyments and that we pursue our careers, and that it would simply be less meaningful without music, not totally deprived of meaning. I challenge that reader to live a month without listening to or thinking about or dreaming about or passing by music or art… it’d be impossible.

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