Friday, August 01, 2014

"The Soundtrack of Life"

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.]


Anonymous said...

"What is music, then?

Damned if I know."

Thank you for not having an answer. Although she is singing about a different subject, perhaps it is wise to follow Iris DeMent’s advice:

“Let the Mystery Be”…..

Anonymous said...

"What is music, then? Damned if I know." This is one of those times disagreement is valid. I know what music is and why it touches me, when it does.

The simple problem is that this blog like musicology itself is mostly conducted in language, not music.

If I could play to you, sing to you, compose for you, arrange for you, and when you play for me, sing to me, compose for me or arrange for me, music explains. Music touches. Music knows.

It's just that language fumbles in trying to talk about music, or write words followed by words. When language learns to play and sing and compose and arrange, then we all can speak the truth of what music is.

Alas language does not serve well at all, until at the minimum it turns to poetry. To luxurious metaphor and mysterious lingo over which rational language stumbles.

This is why music speaks to me so well, while musicology falls so often flat.