I recently attended the funeral of a dear friend who had lived a remarkable life. During that day, I was recalled fond memories of the many times I visited her and her husband in Philadelphia. She was a musician; her husband was an artist, and they loved being surrounded by and a part of a thriving arts scene for many decades.
While speaking with another friend in attendance, I mentioned feeling our departed loved one had held “the heartbeat of the city”. Her energy, joie de vivre, and appreciation of all things artistic all served as a role model to me for many years.
I often wonder why particular places resonant with me so strongly, and if there is something intangible which connects us with the environment or the living things located there. Why do particular cities “feel” a certain way?
I believe part of it is related to how our brains receive and process sound. We detect patterns consciously or subconsciously - the walking of feet, the clack of the subway, the ebb and flow of traffic timed by stoplights. The din of many people speaking in a restaurant, horns honking, and of course, musicians performing on street corners.
(The rhythmic sounds of traffic light signals.)
When I am walking on a public sidewalk, I am aware of the “flow of traffic”, timing my turns and pace to balance with those around me. It’s not quite dancing, but there is a rhythm to it. I suppose in that sense, rhythm is all around us and a part of our daily lives.
Further still, what of sitting in a park, noticing how the tree branches move in the breeze, hearing birds singing, and the not-so-occasional barking of canines (just what are they saying to each other)?
(Have you noticed how rhythmic and "on the beat" the birds are?)
Perhaps each place has its ever-evolving “kaleidoscope” rhythm, whether a busy city, a park, a farm - even the stillness of an art gallery or a house of worship. While it may seem esoteric, synergies reverberate in places such as these, and somehow, we are aware of them.
I invite you to take a moment to think of one or two of your favorite places you experience on a daily or weekly basis. Why might you look forward to being there? What type of energy do you experience in that place and how does it affect you? What rhythmic patterns of sound do you notice?
Children and young people seem especially good at this - not much goes undetected by their acute powers of observation! As a teacher, one of my favorite videos to show younger students in music class is Disney’s rendition of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, found within the Fantasia 2000 film. All of the animation is done to emulate the caricature style of artist Al Hirschfeld, and the team of illustrators demonstrated an incredible amount of creativity with the storylines which correspond to the rhythm of the music. Many students remember it and ask to watch it again.
Composers know music can be very formally structured; however, its inspiration is often drawn from a rhythmic, musical atmosphere of one’s daily life, observations, and feelings. When listening, it's true we “see" through the lens of someone else: but isn’t that what draws us to the arts in the first place?
(Rhythm can be made with every day objects)