Saturday, October 2, 2010

Why do we have music?

I was listening to NPR today and heard a piece on Christoph Eschenbach, currently the conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra (pictured right). Indirectly, he gave what I found to be a very cogent answer to this question:

"Music can invade you totally, and can speak all the languages of emotion to you. You can express all the language of emotion with that music."

We writers often complain about not being able to fully trasmit our emotions. Music, it seems, can fill this gap which writing cannot. To say that writing is just the language of the intellect and music is just the language of emotions sets up a false dichotomy, but it also gives a good sense of their respective strengths.

Update (2hrs later): When I wrote this post, I didn't consider poetry, arguably the most emotional form of writing. Even still, I feel music has a superior fidelity for emotions. Music doesn't rely on words, or even concepts, and that allows it to speak to us from a place in our minds before words or concepts even form.

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes I think that, but having majored in both of those things, I will say that music, while probably ultimately superior to other forms of art in that respect, is not quite as superior, because a lot of the emotion we experience comes from either text attached to music as song lyrics, or from context given to us in liner notes, by professors, or by a first listen. The most emotion you attach to a musical piece is emotion that you decide, based on how you're feeling when you listen to it. I would argue that, if you gave different people a new piece of music to listen to, without any context, they would each attach a strong emotional quality to that piece, and each person's would be different.

    That maybe doesn't lessen its superiority; perhaps that's why music is so awesome--a chord can mean despair to one person, marriage to another, and rain to another. But I don't think music necessarily transfers a specific emotion (that the composer ascribes to it) as well as, say, a poem does.