Around ten years ago I heard an interview with a somewhat-successful 20ish pop-music singer (who did major in "legit" vocal music in college). Someone in the audience posed the question, "What is music?" Without hesitating for a second she replied, "The soundtrack of life."
Now that I think about it, I find something odd about that response. I have music going on in my head all the time, but it is not a soundtrack. It does not telegraph to me what I should be feeling about any of the non-musical things I experience. If anything the music in my head is repetitive and incomplete, and seems to have a life of its own.
My young friend didn't make the "soundtrack" idea up. It apparently originated with Dick Clark, who also gave us "I don't make culture. I sell it," and "I don't set trends. I just find out what they are and exploit them." There you have it.
What is music, then?
Damned if I know. I'm also not really sure where it is. I used to know a whole lot about music, but the more I learn the more baffled I become. I am always in awe when it moves me, because I have no idea why it does.
[I'm slowly making my way through the Bach Well-tempered Clavier this summer, one Prelude and Fugue at a time. Today it was the absolutely astounding E-flat set from the first book, and tomorrow's fare has six flats. Listening to someone else play them is fine, but getting into the water and trying to--figuratively, of course--swim to the other side of the pool without drowning is another story.]