Saturday, May 1, 2010

Musical Manifesto for May First

Musicians and music lovers of the world, unite!

There is no question that music is one of the unifying forces in human society, a force which breaks down barriers and establishes avenues of communication, understanding, and love among the diverse branches of the human species.

And on this day (for me the beginning of a new musical year), I like to ask:

What is music? What is its role in our lives? Why is it so inseparable from the most basic human experiences?

The current state of music in the world is that literally millions of people--sometimes as themselves, sometimes forming groups with individuals of similar convictions, sometimes aspiring to national stature, sometimes challenging and crossing an incredible complex of difficult, even deadly, boundaries—are committing their efforts to musical offerings, statements, masterpieces, or even failures, from no less a primal source than their very souls, and their deepest and most sacred dreams and hopes of simply connecting with other beings, with the prospect of sharing the magic of music with those who care to—or have the opportunity to—or are (by those around them) forced to—listen . . . .

Music is the other language of today’s media—sometimes called the lingua-franca of this world, of human hearts and throats and tongues, and if it is not too much to wish for, of the souls of our fellow inhabitants of this complex, constantly changing, and constantly challenging planet (to our immediate knowledge, and infinite loneliness: the only proof-positive of the presence of life within the vastness of the perceivable universe. . . . )

So let us sing, let us play the music of our hands and voices and hearts; let us celebrate the myriad musics of our pluralistic world, to accompany the ultimate poetry and drama and philosophy of this miraculous—and yet gloriously ordinary—existence we share together today, and we hope, tomorrow.

When we think about music, many questions arise:

Why, since the dawn of human existence, have we been moved to sing, or to create musical instruments, however primitive, and play them?

Similarly, why has song, for millennia, been so fundamental an expression of the human spirit?

Why do humans sing when alone, as in tending herds of sheep, or together in vast choruses in towering cathedrals?

What joy, what fulfillment, is achieved by creating some new piece of music?

What reward is to be found in playing the music created by someone else?

Why are lullabies almost universal among human societies?

Why are gramophone records, or 45s, or long-playing records, or cassettes, or CDs, or now Mp3s such important cultural artifacts collected by millions with such devotion and often at considerable expense?

Why are the musical aspects of radio and television so fundamental to our culture?

Why is the music industry so huge?

Why is music used as a mobilizing force for religion, for sports competition, for war?

Why is music so important for dancing, or other bodily expressions?

Why is some music considered profane or even erotic, and other music held to be sacred?

Why is music used as enhancement for plays, for films, or for advertisements?

Why is music sometimes used as an element of torture?

Why can music provoke such strong feelings, either negative or positive, to send people dancing and celebrating in the streets, or to threaten or even kill those who propagate music, either by performing it or by being merchants of music?

Why does every nation have a national anthem?

Why does virtually ever religion have some sort of liturgy, or hymns, to awaken and enhance religious feelings, whether of humility, or celebration, or joy?

Why can music be divisive, in separating generations, social groups, or national entities?

Why can a bugle, or drums, motivate soldiers to fight and kill?

Why is song, or at least music, so intricately intertwined with expressions of love?

Why do hymns and songs assist in comforting in times of grief and loss?

Why can music constitute an expression of absolute, transcendent joy?

Why does some music make us laugh, some make us weep?

Why can the cacophony, or sheer boredom, of one musical expression as perceived by one individual or group, express the quintessential nature of another individual or cultural or national expression for which it is a source of pleasure, inspiration, or succor?

Why are new avenues of musical expression and innovation constantly sought?

Then again, why are the newest musical creations and styles able to generate extreme hostility, even violence, as well as an exultant sense of discovery and liberation?

Why is it that music is able to bring people together in extraordinary displays of unity and common purpose, even across lines and divisions that otherwise promote violence and even slaughter?

Why are some simple sounds pleasing to some, and anathema to others.

Why is there such an extraordinary diversity of musics in the myriad cultures of the world?

How can one song or collection of songs mobilize an entire social movement, or express and comfort the aspirations and despairs of an entire generation, or a dissonant splinter group?

Why is song, and not just words, used to tell the history, sometimes in entire epics, of a tribal group that exists without the benefit of literacy?

Why can music bring such an intense, even mystical, personal experience, associated as it is with the process of memory and nostalgia?

How does human music relate to the unchallengeable musicality of bird song, or the songs of whales?

Why do the songs of insects and other creatures have, to the human ear, musical qualities?

What is the relationship of music to science and mathematics—as in the Music of the Spheres, or the Pythagorean considerations of music.

Brian Q. Silver
07.18.08, rev. 05.01.10

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Once again, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on any of these matters, and continuing to share the rich experience of music with you.

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