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Music is a language

One summer, a young conductor was at a music festival, standing in front of a student orchestra, listening to the words of an experienced mentor. It was a seemingly artificial environment: all of the participants were away from their homes, regular jobs and classes, and had come together to rehearse an extensive amount of challenging music in a brief amount of time.

The conductor eagerly awaited any inquiry from the mentor; he had studied the full orchestral score, practiced some of the conducting patterns and gestures, and thought through his own interpretation of the piece. He had prepared as much as he could in the recent days, or so he thought. When the mentor paused the rehearsal, he heard a question coming from his chair located behind the players: “Why do you want to be a conductor?”

He would learn it was the question asked of all conducting participants — a broad inquiry when so many of the smaller details had claimed their attention throughout the week. Having been “put on the spot”, intuition alone would reveal the true motives of anyone who desired to lead this group of highly sensitive people.

After a few seconds to collect himself, the student said with conviction:

“Music is the language I desire to speak…I believe the audience has something to say through the message of the music, whether they realize it or not…I believe the orchestra has something to say…and I do, too…”

When he had finished, he realized tears were beginning to roll down his cheeks. For him, the moment was more real than home, work, or school. Unveiled before all, he had given a sincere account of his foremost desire and being.

In essence, music is a form of expression. It is one of the “universal languages” in which the emotional depth can go far beyond the written word. A musical work may be written solely for the artist-composer themself, or to be shared with a wider audience. It may have a specific desired interpretation, it may be open to many interpretations, or both. While it technically exists in the moment in which it occurs (i.e. in performance), the remnant is what is recalled in memory, and is often associated with important places and events in one’s life. Much of the beauty of the human experience is unquantifiable, and many would consider the memories they have associated with particular songs to be priceless. To remember, to be remembered - the musical link can provide feelings of greater maturity.

The desire to communicate is natural to human beings from infancy, and in the same vein a case can be made for the natural desire to listen to or make music from an early age. Consider this short YouTube video of Bobby McFerrin :

The audience members naturally knew what to sing next, perhaps based on music they have previously heard. As Mr. McFerrin states, no matter what place he is in, the audience in that place understands and sings the same pattern.

The nature of music is part of the reason we recognize the timbres of individual speaking voices, and also of individual instruments. It is why every classroom of students is captivated by listening to the timeless tale of Sergei Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf”, why viewers remember the musical themes of American film composer John Williams, and why it is impossible to be disingenuous when singing for a loved one.

If you could share your feelings for someone close to you, which song would you pick? If you could choose any genre of music as your language, what would you choose?

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