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Monday, March 20, 2006

Random Thoughts About Music

I just finished watching a fansub of an anime series called Macross Zero. From what I've understood of what I've seen in the different Macross series, a common theme is the power of music. In this series, the music is a part of an ancient creation myth that includes a prophecy of the destruction of the world. One of the characters, a priestess, is devoted to the "Song of Creation," and, whenever she sings it, the whole island seems to come alive. This song of creation is, apparently, sung by all living things. The other song is the "Song of Destruction," which has the power to destroy creation.

Anyway, watching this series got me thinking about music. Specifically, I was thinking about its signifigance. Music, somehow, seems to have the ability to bypass barriers of logic and reason and speak directly to the heart. It almost seems that music is the language of the soul. Emotions and feelings that cannot be described in words can be shared by a simple melody. As the saying goes, music calms the wild beast. In Scripture, David played on his harp, and calmed King Saul's raging madness. In Greek mythology, the Sirens' song lured sailors to a watery grave. Today, movie soundtracks provide an emotional connection to the events of the movie (seriously, try watching the dramatic scene in a movie without the music soundtrack and see if it's quite as emotional—although, true, sometimes, the emphasis is accomplished by silencing the music). When I was playing in the orchestra at my church, I began to notice a connection between certain parts of the music and the reactions of the congregation. A crescendo into a key change to a higher key would generally get people on their feet and hands raised, for instance (if paired with the right chords, apparently).

More personally, I find playing an instrument to be almost therapeutic. Sometimes, the playing slows me down, and helps me to relax and think. Sometimes, playing music just takes me to another world. Sometimes, my music is the only way I can express myself. This is, I suppose, why, when I play my own music, it's always something slightly different: each time I play it, circumstances around and within me are different.

I'm also reminded of the creation myths in both C.S. Lewis's Narnia series and J.R.R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion. In The Magician's Nephew, Lewis writes of the creation of Narnia:
In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful nosie he had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it.


Then two wonders happened at the same moment. One was that the voice was suddenly joined by other voices; more voices than you could possibly count. They were in harmony with it, but far higher up the scale: cold, tingling, silvery voices. The second wonder was that the blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars. They didn't come out gently one by one, as they do on a summer evening. One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand. thousand points of light leaped out—single stars, constellations, and planets, brighter and bigger than any in our world. There were no clouds. The new stars and the new voices began at exactly the same time. If you had seen and heard it, as Digory did, you would have felt quite certain that it was the stars themselves which were singing, and that it was the First Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing.
And so on, until the Singer of the First Voice is revealed as a great Lion. Where the characters of the story had been standing (if that's the right word) in Nothing, Aslan literally sings Narnia into being.

I don't have The Silmarillion at hand to quote from, but in that story, Tolkien records that Iluvatar first begets the Ainur, and proceeds to lead them in a Great Music. The greatest of the Ainur, Melkor, begins to attempt to alter the harmony of the Great Music. The discord introduced by Melkor leads many of the other Ainur into similar discord. However, rather than allowing his Music to be ruined, Illuvatar works this discord into the Music, making it even more beautiful and deep. Once this music is accomplished, Illuvatar reveals to the Ainur that they had just sung the history of Middle Earth, and then forms the Universe after the music that was sung.

Finally, I started reading a book recently called Music in the Medieval World. The first chapter of the book discusses the Jewish origins of Christian liturgical music. According to the author of this book,
For the Jews, music had always held a major position in worship. As in many religions, music seems to have been considered as a kind of language peculiarly appropriate to communicate with God, for it was a manner of communication completely out of the ordinary interchange between human beings.
Personally, I think there is something deeper to the importance of music in communicating with God than its just being different from how we talk to one another. It seems that music is something deeper, something more spiritual, something more universal among all of mankind (but not limited to mankind).

A friend of mine was telling me the other day about a show he had seen on String Theory. To quote the Wikipedia article, "The basic idea is that the fundamental constituents of reality are strings of energy of the Planck length (about 10-35 m) which vibrate at resonant specific frequencies." The focus of our discussion was on the seeming similarity of this to sound. If I understand correctly, tonal sets in music are built around "resonant specific frequencies."

I may be smoking a lot of crack here (and almost certainly evidencing a complete misunderstanding of string theory), but I'll put this up for discussion: is it possible that music is sort of an echo of the voice of God in creation?

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