Everyone knows music is beautiful. My mother tried to explain this to me when she closed her eyes and air-conducted to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy and I sat, bored, picking the thread out of the cushion on the sofa, thinking of how my book ended. There was something flat about music to me—language required your mind, demanded your imagination. It needed you for it to come alive. Music didn’t seem to care if you were there or not—sound would exist whether you heard it or not. Existentially, of course, people can argue this (If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it happen…?), but to an eight-year-old me, music was self-sufficient, not even trying to reach out to communicate. I was extraneous to the process and my eight-year-old mind did not appreciate it.
At thirteen, I dug my heels in and sought to control it. If music insisted on living in a realm outside of dialogue then I would force it into a realm that I loved and understood—I would transcribe it into words, and dance with it on my own terms. I wrote my first short story: a moment piece about a man who played the piano for an art dealer, only to reveal he was selling the piano and it would be his last song. The man was blind, just in case there wasn’t enough drama to work off. (And it was called, just in case one missed it, Music.) The entire piece was more about language than anything else—what music could be like if its tremors could be caught in words. It was the first piece of writing that I ever fell in love with, but it had, of course, completely failed in its aim: music dressed in my words was even drier than the music I could not feel.
For the longest time, I got away with this apathy. I was gifted with a sister that adored all genres of music and I stole songs shamelessly off her iPod and parroted off whatever snippets of conversation I heard. I learned quickly that “So, what kind of music do you like?” was the first and easiest ice-breaker one could think of, and the easiest way to form or mould one’s personality. Pop: “bad.” Rock: “good.” Metal (at least to the friends I hung out with then): “very good.” Even I, however, couldn’t fake this level of interest. I once laughed at what I thought was a middle-aged wanna-be band on MTV, only to have my friend inform me that it was Iron Maiden and then proceed to hang up on me to listen to the entire concert. But Rock—especially popular Rock—I could do. I went through most of my life thinking the vague attachment you feel to a song was all there really is, and when my tutor closed her eyes 12 years after I first heard Ode to Joy and tried to explain to me that music was the soul of creativity, sound that could transport you, the very essence of a story, I nodded wisely and decided all this was crazy.
“Old Pine“ by Ben Howard was the first song to change that. Then “The Fear,” also by him. And it seemed, once my heart had been opened, music arrived in all its glory, demanding the love I had withheld from it for so many years. It was vindictive in its fierceness. The Mumford and Sons album Sigh No More fell into my lap, as did Beirut’s East Harlem and Goshen, and then Sigur Ros, and suddenly, I’m listening to songs on repeat, craving music to light up ordinary moments, falling deeper into synapses of emotion and imagination that I cannot understand. Music did bypass language—but only because it sought to pull out your own words.
Read more on this topic: DON’T BE MONOMUSICAL: The importance of appreciating all genres of music>>