The Power of Music (Part 6)
So if you music is able to speak a deep emotional language and awaken a latent but poignant human longing what can it not do? Good question. It is important to know the limits of something as we seek to utilize it.
Music is debatably a good tool for story-telling. Some in the folk-loving tradition would argue it is best that way. Certainly music can be used as a memory tool to help tell the ancient stories. In many cultures songs were the medium for history.
Yet in today’s world there is a whole new medium to bring alive stories: film. Unlike any other time in history we can make almost any period of history come alive in the most real sense. Movies have become the primary mode of story-telling.
Music, popular music, has today become very driven around something movies can not do: gather 10’s of thousands of people at a festival to dance and reinvigorate community. Music has become more and more about the live experience.
There is innately something uniquely powerful about the mass gathering around a musical cause. Experiencing things on a large scale is something deeply human. There is some almost irresistible quality to the crowd experience.
Not all the different than a football game, the crowd mentality carries us beyond the individual. We normally isolated beings find ourselves smack dab in the middle of a shared experience on a mass level and it feels really good in many way.
When we add music to the crowd experience there is a sort of sacredness to the gathering. Instead of hollering for our favorite teams to pulverize each other we are combining our voices and shared longings in a massive group experience.
There is simply nothing like 10,000+ people singing together, feeling together the emotion of a particular song. Remember how deeply intimate music is, we already talked about its rootedness in our emotional longing. Private goes public.
As powerful as that experience can be it also of course can manipulated, coerced, and downright greedy. For the promoter trying to make a buck to the attender looking to keep a high going for a whole summer, the experience can be misleading.
If we consider “Deadheads” for a second, it may illustrate. They are people who are fundamentally moved by the live show experience. They find so much much solace in the show and in the community around the show they leave work to pursue it.
They literally follow the band to continue to experience the overwhelming emotions night after night. Does it get old? Do the experiences feel coerced after a while? Is this a good use of their time and money? Are they missing out on their life?
These are the great questions of culture that we can’t totally answer. Is the music experience like that meant to be experienced over and over again? Do we ring dry the magic by expecting it over and over. Or is it new every time?
So we have been trying to get to the bottom of what does music actually do for people, for community, for the soul? The deeper we get into the question the harder it seems to get to a clear understanding. Music has multiple functions to be sure.
Perhaps helpful is to consider a world without music. What would be missing in the world without music? What part of our experience and life would be fundamentally missed without music? Dostoevsky talked about this in Russia.
They had become an artless country. Without fiction and imagination all ideas had to be run through the political sphere. What could have and probably should have remained in the realm of creativity was forced into political realities.
Art necessarily provides experimental worlds. It gives us the chance to run free in those worlds. Music particularly acts as an escort of sorts on such journeys. It may not be the foreground, but music is definitely the host, the dream-inducing spell.
Music in so many ways is the pixie dust of imagination. It takes people from the mundane to a more profound sense of feeling. It takes someone from being only “in their head” to somewhere deep within themselves.
Think of music at a funeral. It is dangerous. It is a spark in a dry forest. It can set the whole place ablaze with raw emotion. The most passionate eulogies or messages can incubate emotion but simply not on the scale of a powerful song.
Words give framework, meaning, hope. But music ignites. It simply ties into a different part of the soul. Music ethnologists study and know the central place of music in so many sacred traditions and rituals. The music begins the experience.
Music is essential, not optional. Think of young David playing the harp for the increasingly delusional king to calm his nerves. Think of the traveling prophet groups led by a musical caravan. Music escorts an experience.
Probably neither the artist nor the audience is totally in charge of making all the connections. They are simply parts of a bigger whole - a hidden wholeness. What all happens is out of the control of human beings. There is something else happening.
This is where traditionally and in most tribal cultures today they would something about the Great Spirit, or God. Who is it that weaves all these things together, beyond the control or foresight of humans? It is the author of life and art Himself.
Is it that unreasonable to think that God uses what are simply sparks from our angle - attempts to do something amazing, belief that something amazing can be done, in order to make something really amazing happen? Amazing is beyond our means.
But like the sound of the train at the perfect moment our random is God’s specific. What we can not control God can. He brings the weather, the out of nowhere calls and sounds, all together for the perfect symphony of hidden wholeness. Thanks be to God.