Lend An Ear

Child playing a drum


We all march to the beat of a different drum.

The music was distinctly Latin. What was there about it that made me think so? It had a spare lushness to it that somehow betrayed its origin. It was the octaves, those uninterrupted intervals, that gave the first clue. The sound waves fit together neatly, one exactly half the length of the other, suggesting a rich openness that spoke of the country, of the people, of the era from which it had sprung. It was not of the baroque with its embellishments, not of the subtle sophistication of society and politics, but of wide-open spaces which stood out sharply in the sun. In the hands of the San Jose Symphony one could hear, if not see, the Mexican countryside in the early 1900s depicted by Chavez in his Sinfonia India.

And this was followed by a more complex piece by Revueltas with the spaciousness still evident in its broad fifths and rhythm that carried the pulse of life from south of the border. The sound waves, now arrayed in a more complex pattern, still allowed the sunlight through, the brasses lending brilliance to the beams.

Silence is rare these days. The world is a noisy place. We have become accustomed to sound and have learned to ignore it. But sometimes sounds come together in a way that targets the spirit and cannot be ignored. Single tones can fit together in an infinite number of ways that may speak, sometimes privately, of places and events both real and imagined. Waves coalesce in crests and troughs to form a surge of sound that may suggest Mexico or Africa, loneliness or joy, youth or maturity. The sounds become music that can energize or soothe, incite or subdue. Music has power.

Children outdoors playing chimes

Kids always find a way to chime in.

And music has substance. Each note has its pitch, a measurable vibration, but it has much more. It has a quality that may come from a horn, a violin, an oboe, a guitar, a drum, each conveying its own character, each contributing overtones that paint a unique picture. These individual qualities can be measured. The waves of sound traveling through the air, compressing and expanding it, can be “seen” as well as heard. Music can be studied and reproduced, it can be dissected and examined.

There is art in music; there is science in music. There must be both. But it is not the art that matters; it is not the science. It is the music. Baroque or folk, rock or gospel, classical or blues, music gives us a way to speak that transcends words. It is what lifts us beyond ourselves and adds a dimension to living that makes the ordinary sing.

But for all of its complexity, music has a simplicity, a naturalness that everyone understands. Whether it is the tune played on the homemade instruments of children, the hymn swelling from organ and choir, the lilt of a popular song, or the grandeur of a symphony, there are few who can ignore the call. Take some time to really listen to your music.

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