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Music is arguably one of the most powerful natural laws or forces in the universe. We spend billions of dollars every year to own its latest expressions that are created by musicians all over the world who access its magnificent power. Since we may take music for granted or may even consider that “we” are responsible for its power, maybe it is time that we reconsidered music in the light of universal reality.
Music has been an important part of my life since I can remember. If I wasn’t listening to my Grandfather sing baritone in the Lutheran Church Choir, I was listening to my Mother sing folk songs with her guitar in the early 60’s.
When my parents opened a music store in San Clemente California called the Maria Del Arte Music Center and, eventually, the adjoining Four Muses Folk and Rock club, I learned to play a few chords and helped form a surf band, The Exceptions, with three or my buddies in 6th grade.
During High School, I was your typical hippie type who played a lot of rock, grew my hair long and avoided the High School Music Program and traditional forms of music as much as possible. My only exception was to listen to the “Grand Canyon Suite” by composer Ferde Grofe. Grofe composed this marvelous collection of Programmatic Music after he visited the canyon. Each arrangement paints a musical picture of the title to each song. The first being ‘Sunrise.’ If you can find the piece directed by the late Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, this is the best recording I know.
Anyways, once I decided to take on the challenge of a formal music education, it became very apparent that there was a wide gap between the ‘Educated Musicians’ and the ‘Non Educated Musicians.’ The later like myself were, for the most part, just ignorant and didn’t know what we were missing if we had only taken the time to learn some music theory. Many of the “Educated” musicians developed an “ego” about their classical musical tastes. You would think that some of them actually created music!
It is when I got to college that I realized how far apart the two sides were. I found that many “educated musicians” had their nose in the air and looked down upon ‘pop” music and the “uneducated” people that wrote and performed it. Further, when you analyze the music programs in most High Schools, they normally only cater to more traditional forms of music like choir, band and orchestra. What about all the kids that would rather play in rock bands? Are they not also musical students seeking to increase their abilities? Of course they are. But, because they do not fit into the “music program mold,” they are not considered of any artistic value for the most part.
I am not at all inferring that a proper music education is not absolutely essential to becoming a talented musician. I work with young people in my studio constantly that I sometimes have a difficult time convincing of the importance of music education since many of them feel they are “gifted” and therefore do not require any further knowledge. No aspiring musician should ever have this attitude. What I am saying is that music is such an incredible natural force that all who study it should be in awe of its beauty and power and humbled to be at its feet. For any of us to have an ‘ego” about it or preach that or our musical tastes are far superior to others are, in my opinion, misguided.
How dare we as mortals to even attempt to dictate to such a powerful natural law as music how that it should be expressed. It is like the seagull dictating to the hurricane where it should make landfall.
To further explain, here is how I view art, more specifically in this discussion, music. Whatever your belief system regarding how the earth and the universe came to being, we all must admit that the powerful forces we experience and enjoy called Music and Speech, came with the creation or evolutionary package. We did not create them; they have always existed as forces in the universe. They are no different that the natural laws of Gravitation, Light, Magnetism, Mathematics and Electricity to mention only a few.
We may analyze a piano and conclude that tonality ceases at the end of the keyboard. These “88 keys” are only a few notes that sound within our limited range of hearing. Any Dog knows that! Isn’t it possible that the keyboard continues in both directions to infinity? Hard to imagine? Did you know that recent discoveries by the Hubble Telescope have located “Billions” more Galaxies? Where do the universe and the musical scale end?
These questions are important to consider, as I believe we must humbly revere the wonderful and powerful forces of Music and Speech. We do not own them but they are a creation that has been here since the beginning of time. And when we realize this, then we can tap into these powerful creative forces. Service, gratefulness and humility always open the door to the secrets of, arguably, the most powerful forces on earth!
Further, we have all been given an instrument that, not only creates speech, but also performs a wide range of musical pitches. We call this marvelous instrument the larynx or voice box. Just like man learned to fly from observing and analyzing birds, original man must have learned of music and speech from experimenting with his personal instrument.
With music, the created language of musical notation is our best effort to be able to communicate, understand and organize that, which already exists. I say this because some people may not consider such truths and believe music to be created by man. That is no truer than man creating flight. We only discovered the “natural force” that was and is by watching birds fly.
Further, Music is found in every known culture, past and present, varying wildly between times and places. Since all peoples of the world including the most isolated tribal groups have a form of music, scientists conclude that music must have been present in the ancestral population prior to the dispersal of humans around the world. Consequently known performance of music may have been in existence for at least 50,000 years.
Another important aspect of music that proves its flexibility to individual creative thought is that a culture's music is influenced by all other aspects of that culture, including social and economic organization, climate, and access to technology. Further, the emotions and ideas that music expresses and the situations in which music is played and listened to is also influenced by culture. To further explain, the natural law that the structure of music is based upon does not change and the arrangement of notes and chords is completely flexible to adjust to cultures.
To me, that is why music as art form is more desirable that let’s say, a painting. If we looked a painting from the Renaissance time period, we would only be able to experience it from just viewing it. But, if we have a musical composition for the same time period, we can perform it again, bring it to life and manipulate it by varying the tempo, volume, articulation or many other variables. In essence, the music comes alive again. What a miracle! We can actually experience the “thoughts” of Beethoven or Mozart in a living and fresh way.
In conclusion, my vision for writing this article is to remind all of us who write, perform or just enjoy the incredible miracle of Music that we must respect how music decides to express itself through all creative minds that access its universal power. We may not like the artistic expression or “style” that we hear. That is a matter of taste. For instance, we may not all like milk or beef but we can certainly agree to respect the cow for its important contribution to the food chain. So it is with the created natural law of music.
So if you are a “pinhead academic” or a “naive punk rocker” get over yourself and learn everything you can about music with an open spirit and a humble heart. Music deserves that kind of respect.
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Jonathan Morgan Jenkins