Saturday, November 6, 2010

Musing on Music

Hey, can we just talk about music for a while? 

That's what I feel like doing, so I'm going to just jump in. If you should stick around I guarantee you will learn something, perhaps a bit of trivia you can drop at an opportune moment to impress your friends/family/co-workers/ghosts in the room. You have full license to reproduce and transmit anything you glean from this work. However, if you make lots of money Imma want a chunk o' that, son!

Why am I writing about music, you ask? Well, if you know anything at all about me, you know this: I avoid school-work like swine flu (if swine flu were real), and I will do almost anything else if it means I can put off studying ju-ust a little longer. So, without any further ado, here's me procrastinating...

A question for you: Where do we get our modern term music? Don't Google it. I am just wondering if you know, 'cause I do. Let me tell you. This is some fun info, and you have the James Guarantee that you will find this interesting, or at least not completely dull... and there is a surprise ending!

Our modern English word music appeared on the linguistic scene in the mid 13th century. It came from the French word musique, which itself didn't arrive until the 12th century. Both words derive from the Latin musica, and the Latin word, as you might have guessed, came from the Greek phrase mousike techne, "art of the Muses." What in blazes does that mean, you ask? Well, by the beard of Zeus, hold your chariots and I'll tell you!

As we all know the verb muse means to think, or more accurately, to be lost in thought - so I am musing on the subject of music right now - but when in noun form, specifically proper noun form, it refers to the nine daughters of Zeus (the king of the gods) and Mnemosyne (a titaness, and the personification of memory) in Greek mythos. Zeus and Mnemosyne slept together nine straight nights and produced one Muse per night. Not a bad record...

The Muses presided over the arts. They were the protectors of various different categories of art and science, among them were poetry (both epic and love), history, tragedy, comedy, astronomy, dance, hymns, and music (as we know it now). The Muse in charge of music was Euterpe, whose name means "rejoicing well" or "delight." She was called the "Giver of Delight," and her name seems no coincidence. Music has the ability to stir the soul, to arouse our emotions. A song can change the mood quicker and more effectively than... than... well, if you can think of something that does the trick better than music let me know. To back me up on this here are a few selected quotes by folks who know whassup...

Stephen Jenkins, the lead singer for the band Third Eye Blind, encapsulated the tremendous potential for music to grip the emotions and stir the soul, even without words, in a brief 8-word lyric: "...the four right chords can make me cry..." This has proven true for me at times, and maybe it has for you as well...

The Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon, once said (quoting Isaiah 54:1) that the best course of action in times of barrenness, lifelessness, frigidity and faithlessness, is to "Sing, O barren, break forth and cry aloud." He continues, "Sing, believer, for it will cheer thine own heart, and the hearts of other desolate ones. Sing on, for now that God makes thee loth to be without fruit he will soon cover thee with clusters."

Some wise dude named Leigh Hunt said, "Music is the medicine of the breaking heart."

Music is an entity grander that us, more majestic than those who compose it. We arrange lyrics and attach melodies... we marry melody with harmony... we think we create... The fact is that, more often than not, music creates us. Andrew Fletcher (inspired by Plato, no doubt) said, "Let me write the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws." The thrust of that statement is that our beliefs can be manipulated greatly by music, and I believe it is because of its incredibly immersive nature.

You don't just hear a song, you feel it.

You experience a song on both the intellectual level and the emotional level, which instills it with great power; power to build or break, to manipulate emotions, and even to form beliefs.

A skilled songwriter can inject the essence of his or her world-view into a single song and sway the beliefs of a generation. Religious, social, political, and moral convictions, not merely preferences, but convictions can be, and indeed are, molded and shaped by the philosophies of musicians, wrapped in all of the surreal beauty and unparalleled emotional draw of music.

So, how is it that music is more powerful than those who create it? What has instilled music with this grandeur which transcends even those from whom it proceeds? The truth is that it doesn't. Music does not proceed from humans, nor did we create it. We merely produce it. We "sample," if you will, what has always been. We "cover" songs which have already been playing for longer than we can remember, and not very well oftentimes... I want to end by musing on this thought, but first a quote from the infamous German atheistic philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche.

"Without music life would be a mistake."

I have a few questions for Nietzsche... why?

Isn't life, the world, the universe even, already an enormous accident?

And if that is the case, which it most definitely is according to the naturalistic world-view, then is not music also an intrinsically meaningless accident?

The brutal truth is that, for Nietzsche and all those who hold his world-view, music does not make life any less a mistake. Music is, like religion, an opiate for the masses. All it does is soften the blow of the tragic and inescapable fact that we came from nothing, have no real purpose for existence, and are hurtling full-speed towards extinction.


If there is a God, and He did create music along with everything else, or... and try to track with me here, if music is an eternally existent aspect of God, then we have our answer for how music can be bigger than you and I. If God is, at least in one of His aspects, Music, then would it not make perfect sense that music would contain the amazing potency which we happen to find within it when we put it under the microscope?

God is beauty, light, love, infinite knowledge, wisdom, and power, and so many other things... In the words of Dr. S.M. Lockridge, He is the "superlative of everything good you choose to call Him." He is, as we have acknowledged in popular song, "indescribable."

I ask you, gracious reader, to step back, take a long hard look at music, think deeply, MUSE, and tell me what it is. Go ahead, describe it to me. I don't want technical terms. I want you to tell me what music is.

I submit to you that music has proceeded from, possibly is eternally and inextricably linked with, an indescribable Being, and therefore is itself indescribable.
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