My dear readers,
In my last article, Why We Need Classical Music, I outlined my belief that more than ever, the world needs classical music today because of this genre's unique ability to act as a conduit for peace.
Because this topic needed to be explained from a general perspective, I feel that I did not fully explain my premise in a specific, practical way. As a result, I would like to delve deeper into the topic. I then will apply my belief that music makes us better listeners to my premise that both cross-cultural and intra-cultural dialogue can be achieved through learning how to actively and intuitively listen.
The language of the classical music idiom before the twentieth century is based largely on the laws of physics. Without going into the details of why and how, it is apparent enough to most people that the music relies on harmonies and dissonances to give us a sense of emotion, based on how the notes relate to one another. As a result of the fact that we all are capable of feeling the same emotions, and the fact that the laws of physics are universal, classical music can relate to all people across all cultures.
For instance, when a choir sings in unison (all parts on the same notes), one gets a sense of unity and peace - perhaps one can verbalize this as "we're all in this together". This example can also be called "singing in octaves" since there are men in the choir who are singing lower.
Then, there are dissonant sounds, such as the tritone. Doesn't that collection of sounds make you want to run away? The tritone is considered to be the most dissonant sound - so much so, that the medieval theorists called it the interval of the devil! There is an inherent discordance in this sound which can be very powerful in musical expression.
Then, there is a collection of sounds called the "Perfect Fifth." This is a very stable and bright sonority that doesn't give the impression of really wanting to go anywhere musically. When one hears this, it's a bit like saying "I'm just going to hang out here, take off my coat, and stay awhile." There is no inherent aural tension in this sound. One can almost think of this music being played softly in a CD for musical meditation.
I have only begun to scratch the surface and there are many more sounds inherent in the classical music tradition. Still, you can understand now where I'm coming from. One does not need a degree in music to understand the emotional implications of these sounds. Furthermore, I believe that these sounds would be universally acknowledged across all cultures to be emotionally understood the same way.
So how can we apply this to the world at-large? Sure, listening to classical music is nice, but can it really bring world peace? Isn't this a lofty goal? Of course it is, and simply being "present" at a concert will not result in change. You see, in order to understand our fellow man or woman, one has to open one's mind and ears fully. As I mentioned in my last blog post, one has to have the inclination to understand the meaning of the music and listening to classical music regularly will ultimately help you to become a better listener.
Classical music provides the perfect tool to train one's mind to become a better listener, for when one learns to listen intuitively to classical music, one can apply the same type of listening to our day-to-day conversations.
You might notice that I slipped in a word above after "listen" - that word is "intuitively". I already talked about active listening but didn't yet mention intuitive listening. What is the difference between the two?
Active listening is a type of listening that involves a focus on what is being said, sounded, or played. Intuitive listening is a mechanism of listening that resonates within. Intuitive listening cannot be learned and it is not something that can be taught. Rather, it is the result of being fully aware, in the moment, and being receptive. In a sense, it is the result of something inside you touching a part of my soul or vice-versa.
Let me digress for a moment to make my point:
I remember that when I was a teenager, my mother would often accompany me at the piano while I was standing next to her with my violin in my arms. When she played certain notes, my violin would start to vibrate! This is called resonance. Human beings equally resonate and this is what connects us all. It is a type of energy that allows us to empathize with another. When I say something that connects with you, you feel that warmth because something inside you is awakened.
So, when it comes to human-to-human interaction, intuitive listening will only work if you are receptive and primed. Yet, you cannot be actively looking to be moved by music (or speech). It must come naturally. By the way, did you ever notice that there is music behind every spoken word? Ever notice that you can intuitively understand many people based on how they say their words? The most obvious examples are when we are depressed or ecstatic.
Of course, not every conversation about the weather requires the same level of awareness cited above. Yet, we can all relate to the fact that conflict amongst individuals (and hopefully resolution) is or has been present in all of our lives. Beginning at the personal level, each one of us has that unique capability to understand our fellow man and woman and it is through listening intuitively that we and therefore, on a much larger scale, our own culture can heal its own rifts.Yet, this must begin on an individual level.
The only disclaimer for this article is that when conflict results, one can not and must not assume that the person we are intuitively listening to is listening intuitively to us. Yet, through our own actions that result from this intuitive listening, we will certainly make the world a better place.
In conclusion, here is a great example of a piece that uses dissonance and harmony to achieve a wide palette of emotion.
This is the first movement of the Mozart "Dissonance" Quartet:
Daniel Broniatowski, D.M.A.
Previous entries: July 2014
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Daniel Broniatowski is from Watertown, Massachusetts. Biography
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