Sunday, February 22, 2009

Musical mediation

"Music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life." -- Beethoven.

Not to put myself in the same category as Beethoven, I know what he means here. I began studying the piano at age 5, continuing until I was 16 and, while woefully out of practice now, I used to be very good.

When I first read this quote, I immediately remembered the times when, while playing, I seemed to disappear into the music and lost all sense of everything else around me. In some cases, I wasn't even aware that I was playing, but, from the reaction of others, I must have done rather well.

Playing the piano was both escaping and entering more deeply into whatever events or emotions were swirling through me and around me. Debussy, some Chopin and Ravel for the gentle moments. Beethoven for the powerful emotions. Some Mozart for playful times. And when the anger was welling up ready to explode nothing would serve except Mendelsohn's Funeral March with its triple fortissimo block chords. I always opened up the lid of the piano for that one, and the family learned to dive for cover.

I don't think for a moment that I am unique in this experience. I've watched other musicians play and seen them transformed by their instrument and the music. Once, I was enjoying an Irish band at a pub. The guitar player and the bodhran player were doing an adequate job. But the fiddle player disappeared into the sheer ecstasy of his music and it was a spiritual experience just to witness it.

This sort of transport is not limited to musicians. I believe that it extends to those who enjoy listening to music and, perhaps, to those with only a casual appreciation for it. There are some songs or pieces of music that can immediately take us back to some event or emotion which we associate, perhaps subconsciously, with the music. This holds true for both happy and sad occasions.

We seem to have a permanent link somewhere in our minds or spirits that connect us to the past by way of music. If the event or person was significant enough, and music was present, hearing the same music will bring those memories to the fore. Jim Croce's music always reminds me of young love, despite the fact that none of his songs were that light. Bluegrass reminds me of Saturday nights watching TV with my grandfather. Some songs, which otherwise sound cheerful enough, take me back to some very dark places in the late 70s, so much so that I have to remove myself from the source.

Some music, which has no connection to our past, can move us to unlikely places in the present. Bearing in mind that I have never once been known for my dancing skills, Arabic music always makes me want to dance in the most sensuous of ways. Celtic music lets me sink into a very deep place within myself. Most of the French Impressionist composers allow me to drift off, out of myself, on whatever path they lay before me. Bach and Beethoven, in different ways, can stir up feelings of glory and grandeur. And, frequently, Mozart's music makes me think of pure play.

Music surrounds us in ways we may not even recognize. Whether it is the radio or annoying advertisement jingles, eagerly sought out live performances or our choice of CDs. Humans, perhaps more uniquely than other creatures, have deliberately instilled music into our expression of ourselves, both individually and collectively. It doesn't matter if it is Handel's Messiah in all it's glory or the Oompah Loompah song from Willy Wonka, music finds a home inside of us and causes us to feel deeply. Two people hearing the same music will take away or incorporate different things, but very few people will remain totally unmoved. It gives voice to something deep within us and, maybe, just maybe, contributes to what makes us human.

1 comment:

Knitman said...

you an d my John have much in common, the piano and the type of music. I don't share the same taste but certainly know what you mean abotu being transported by music. I am more moved by women with guitars and music produced with electronic machines.I do however get transported my Strauss' Blue Danube as played in the 2001: A Space Odyssey. As for Opera, I can't stay in the same room if John is listening to it. I'd rather listen to cats on heat.