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On Music

Posted on:November 7, 2022 at 08:00 PM

Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and cannot be left to silence.

This inexact replica of Victor Hugo’s quote has been emblazoned in my mind ever since I heard some version of it. There are dozens of versions searchable on the internet, but I do not know the true source or exact wording of the original. This is the wording that remains with me.

It is remarkable how the words of another can speak so truly, to feel like your own thoughts written with clarity and precision. Much of that clarity comes from the absence of confusion, of noise, of the cacophony of conflicting concepts that crowd and cower your capacity to conceptualize. Simplicity is achieved not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to cut.

Such sharpness of thought is most often expressed in language, in argument, in mathematics, in logic. Occasionally we see this in music as well. Vivaldi comes to mind, as does Mozart, and in some cases, Yanni. They compose music with movement, that flits and bursts with energy, with intricately detailed patterns, along a grand design that beckons the listener to follow along. Such music is an active experience, where the listener is fully engaged and transported, out of their circumstance to a higher, purer plain of existence where in that moment nothing exists but the music itself.

Other music is soft and comforting. Songs of home, songs of love, songs from your childhood. You’ll sing along to portions on occasion, but mostly they just play in the background, creating an atmosphere with a passive magic that lulls and soothes and heals. And as they comfort you, they become part of you, and everyone who comes in your presence learns to know them, and anyone who then hears them thinks of you.

I have songs that almost always cheer me up. I listen to them deliberately, when I know I’m sad but also ready to be cheered. I treat them with care, so they don’t lose their effect. I have songs that make me cry. It is difficult for me to cry by myself, often need a medium. Sad songs, sad books, sad films are wonderful for this. “Sad movies always make me cry.”

I have listened to certain songs at certain times, and they remind me of them. I continue to be surprised at the immediate effect old songs have on me when heard randomly in the world. They take me out of the moment, and for a while I am pulled away, pulled apart, and have to recompose myself, and make sense of what I’m seeing with my eyes and try and match it to what I’m hearing with my ears, despite my ears strongly reminding me of that which I had seen, and no longer see.

I love coming upon a new song that I like. My aesthetic sense is closest to my idea of “me”. Whenever something passes the filter, makes a connection, feels immediately and obviously joyful without condition or context, that’s when I feel the happiest to be alive, and to live to be me.