Thoughts on Music


On Music

Most normal people who have time to spare enjoy music of one kind or another. As Shakespeare’s Lorenzo said in the Merchant of Venice,

The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not mov’d with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils.

The motions of his spirit are dull as night,

And his affections dark as Erebus. Let no such man be trusted.

To the post-modernist for whom anything goes and everything must be respected, there is really no difference between music and noise, it is all a matter of cultural preference and indoctrinated tastes, just as  there is no difference between one set of values and another.  To the physicist, music differs from noise in terms of its discrete frequency components. More generally any sound that offers auricular aesthetic satisfaction, whether in content or in experience,  deserves to be called music. Thus when one whispers “I love you!” or proclaims that a war is over, that can be music to the ears.

Music of the harmony, rhythm, and  melody variety has been an integral part of practically every culture. It ranges from simple humming to the resounding majesty of full-fledged orchestras, from the child singing “Twinkle, twinkle little star,” to the Queen of the Night soprano belting out Mozart’s Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen. Musical instruments range from the marvelous chords in the human voice box which, when properly trained, can create the most sublime sounds to those constructed by human ingenuity. Through winds and strings, with percussions and gongs we have devised a hundred different instruments ranging from the mridangam and the violin to the veena and the flute. from which music of incredible variety can be produced.

Music can be a soothing lullaby as in the Turkish balubalu or the Tamil tháláttu. It can be inspirational as in Allons, enfants de la Patrie! Le jour de gloire est arrivé, or patriotic as Iqbal’s sáré jahan sé acchchá hindustán hamárá.  It can be deeply religious as in a Gregorian chant or in a Thyagaraja keertanam. It can be a serene invocation of peace as in the shánti mantra or a call for universal brotherhood as in Beethoven/Schiller’s Alle Menschen werden Bruder, Wo dein sanfter Flugel weilt. It can be somber as in a requiem or arousing one to noisy resonance as with rock music. It can be folk music from mystic singers as the Baul of Bengal or the troubadour minstrels of medieval Europe. One can go on and on: There is no end to the variety of music humanity has created.

I enjoy a variety of music, from  pop and  popular to piano concerti and ragamalikais. I love to hear Mahler’s symphony and Rossini’s overtures as much as Muttuswami Dikshatar and Robíndro shongeet. But I will confess I have always enjoyed the opera arias.

February 16, 2011

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About Varadaraja V. Raman

Physicist, philosopher, explorer of ideas, bridge-builder, devotee of Modern Science and Enlightenment, respecter of whatever is good and noble in religious traditions as well as in secular humanism,versifier and humorist, public speaker, dreamer of inter-cultural,international,inter-religious peace.
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