Where words leave off, music begins…
What is it that gives music its power to communicate? From a fundamental perspective, music is comprised of three universal elements: pitch, pulse and purpose. Pitches are the notes we sing, play and hear; Pulse is the fundamental heartbeat upon which a rhythmic framework and notes unfold (or the absence of note i.e. “rests”); and Purpose is the unique creative intention of the artist, in other words, inspiration.
Purpose can elevate the language of music from a merely forgettable utterance to an imperishable masterpiece. This golden braid of pitch, pulse and purpose is initially knitted together by combinations of inspiration and craft to satisfy the intent or striving within the composer.
The transmission of a piece of music from composer to listener is an artistic expression of sonic language that requires both parties to share something of themselves with each other. It is a testament to the profound nature of music. Throughout history the best poets have not been able to precisely define the effect on the human soul of hearing a sublime, elevating piece of music. As enjoying music is a uniquely subjective experience, its beauty and connectivity truly is in the eye of the beholder, or, in the ear of the listener. The fact that one person’s Bach is another person’s Heavy Metal serves this point well.
A musical transmission happens mechanically as well as intimately. Mechanically through the transmission of sound waves and air pressure variations which physically enters your ear and touches your ear drum. This act of touching requires intimacy. What one perceives as good music is in and of itself a form of intimacy between the listener, the music, and each and every life experience, both musical and otherwise, that has contributed to the listener’s particular taste in music at that moment in time. Clearly, the same individual will have had different musical tastes at the age of 5 than he or she may have at the age of 70.
What role does “purpose” play in the intimacy of music? It brings the music creator and the listener into a very intimate relationship. Once touched by the sound of music, a listener becomes their own co-creator of its purpose. How it relates to their own life experiences, which have been activated by the intimate touch of the music, infuses a different perspective and new artistic meaning into the original piece, i.e. into the original ‘purpose’ of the composer. There is a shared purpose in music.
Music is the only artform that physically touches you (the sound I make enters your body by touching your ear drum). There is something very powerful about touching and intimacy. We were brought into this world as a result of intimate contact and our emotional cradle was formed by the intimacy we received.
Is it possible that what gives music its unique and universal power is wired into us from birth? Consider this concept: While in your mother’s womb, the first pulse you “danced” to was the beat of your mother’s heart and the first pitch that you heard was the melody of your mother’s voice. As a result of intimacy, your journey to fulfill purpose began.
Is it any wonder that music, artistically speaking, continues to defy precise definition? Perhaps there is no definition comprised of mere words that could possibly describe that which is made from so much more.