18 April 2008

Music as Shared Language

I once considered music therapy as a college major, so this quote stood out to me the other day.

Starbucks "The Way I See It" #267
"Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears - it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more - it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity."
~Oliver Sacks, Neurologist and author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain.

I think it points to the way God created music to have the potential to be a language unto itself. The other day I attended the final rehearsal for the Idaho Philharmonic, and even without the program, the music tells the story clearly in Stravinsky's Firebird suite. There's a prince, a princess, an evil monster, a call for help, a battle, a scene of triumph, and a transformation of an evil castle into a radiant paradise. Anybody, regardless of their language, can understand elements of the Russian composer's message through his music. In a different approach, Jim Cockey's new composition An Idaho Symphony blends audio and visual through the use of a slideshow of Idaho photographs (Glenn Oakley), which plays throughout the piece. It was captivating to hear how the music had been matched to scenes the photographer had taken over a year earlier. But perhaps the most demonstrative composition was Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, originally written for piano, over a period of 7 years following a visit to an art exhibit with works by Victor Hartmann in 1874. Maurice Ravel orchestrated the work in 1922 after Mussorgsky's death. Throughout the 10 movements, we can hear scenes such as a troubador wandering old Italy performing on his lute, a big heavy oxcart making its way down a country road, a lighthearted ballet, and the famous last movement The Great Gate of Kiev. Outgoing Philharmonic conductor James Ogle commented on the decline of new music being produced in classical spectrums today, but also noted that popular music simply can't fill the void that would be left if we didn't have the works of composers such as Stravinsky, Cockey, and Mussorgsky. Classical music takes a little more effort to appreciate, but perhaps that's what makes it worthwhile.

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