Embraced by Sound and Senses

It should have come as no surprise to me that listening to certain pieces of music early in the morning can have very different effects on my psyche. But I was surprised, nonetheless—when I listened to Ravel’s Bolero and Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, and a piano solo of Flower Duet’ from Lakmé by Léo Delibes—that my perspective on the day changed with each piece. This was after I repeated something I did last night, which was to listen to and watch a YouTube performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue by the Royal Academy Symphony Orchestra.

Listening to this somewhat random assortment of music made me feel receptive to whatever the day offers, though that receptivity varied in its intensity and its shape with each piece to which I listened and watched. The “shape of one’s receptivity;” that’s a difficult concept to wrap my head around, much less put into words. I did it just now, I know, but probably with words wholly unsuited to the task. And how does one measure, precisely, the intensity of one’s receptivity? To anything? These words are beginning to sound like so much linguistic mush, a meaningless word porridge that has no substance. But that could not be further from the truth; there is substance in those terms. Admittedly, the substance may be buried beneath definitions twisted to fit my mind and my mood; regardless, there is substance. It is palpable; I feel it as if it were a physical thing.

Music can open one’s mind to possibilities that, without its effects, seem distant and unlikely; so remote that reality could not possibly catch up to them. But music can anesthetize the sensation of impossibility, clearing away obstacles that we allow to block the way before us. Music can make us receptive to dreams and visions and wishes and desires that seem out of reach. And it can shape how receptive we are to exploring ideas that might otherwise be hidden or dangerous or forbidden.  Music can trigger emotions both sensual and chaste and thoughts both passionate and decidedly detached. Sounds molded around notes and melodies can be either manipulative or freeing; or both.

Is it odd that music can open and close our minds? Sounds, arranged just so, can evoke supreme serenity or delirious excitement; sometimes, in a bizarre state of rapture, both can exist simultaneously. I know so very little about music. I cannot read music. I cannot tell one note from the next (I can differentiate them, one from another, but I cannot say which is which).  Yet even in the absence of understanding, I know deep inside that music is a powerful elixir with almost magical qualities. Music can erase cares and surmount constraints. It can overcome hesitations and taboos. I suspect the idea of armies marching into battle to the sounds of music intended to steel nerves and harden resolve is based on the belief in the power of music to conquer fear.

That last sentence triggered another, related, thought. Is there something about music that makes it pair well with alcohol? Both of them, in proper measure, can enhance experiences. Both can diminish inhibitions. Paired together, they can overcome irrational fears (karaoke, anyone?).  I wonder why music sounds smoother or rougher, softer or harder, and more personal with a glass of wine? It could be because they go so well together. This morning, though, alcohol is not involved in these musings. Maybe, though, we (and least I) tend to listen to music later in the day because it pairs well with alcohol. Just a thought. Along with so many others.

Onward toward the brightening day. I can listen to bird songs. Are they music? Or are they simply conversations and pronouncements I overhear as I eavesdrop on the denizens of the sky? I suppose it doesn’t matter, as long as it sounds right and feels right. Nobody needs to know of my love affair with avian cantatas if I decide to keep it a secret.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Embraced by Sound and Senses

  1. Patty, you may be right about music serving as a connective reminder of the mother’s heartbeat; I’d never thought of it that way. It is powerful, though, beyond my limited ability to explain. Music seems, to me, something akin to adoration or worship; it serves to channel our appreciation in a precise, focused way. I imagine that’s how some people feel about prayer (perhaps another form of music?).

  2. Patty Dacus says:

    Isn’t it something that music has stirred mortal souls all over the world as far back as history has been recorded…and even farther back? I think we are driven to love music because of the beat, beat, beat of mother’s heart heard from the womb… symphony in the making! It is amazing how music can have such an effect on our emotions. More discussion should follow this!

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