Thursday, January 12, 2023

What Music Can Do

The memorable Australia REMIX National Orff Conference has now finished and it was a delight on many levels. Accustomed as I am to closing words, I prepared a few in my head, but the opportunity never came. No matter. But here’s what I would have said.

In considering how to teach music effectively, we first must consider what music is. More precisely, what it can do and what it can’t do. And all the shades of grey in-between— things it can do sometimes or in the right circumstances with the right people or what it can do sometimes and in what proportions. 

Here’s some things I often thought or wished music could do that it actually can’t (though remember those shades of grey):

• Make people better people. (Charles Manson was a rock guitarist).

• Bring about world peace. (Read the news.)

• Eradicate racism and misogyny and such. (Read my new book Jazz, Joy & Justiceto learn the stories of the indignities jazz musicians suffered).

• Bring people in the band together both onstage and off. (Read the behind-the -scenes stories of the Beatles and various musical groups.)

• Function like a universal language. (The grammars, syntaxes, vocabularies, systems of tension and release are different enough in distinct styles that one cannot automatically understand them without proper training and repeated exposure.)

Well then, what can it do?

• Offer solace, comfort, a dash of needed courage, a sense of not being alone.

• Energize the nervous system, calm jangled nerves, change body chemistry, move people to feel e-motion by the movements of organized vibration.

• Offer a vehicle for self-expression that helps house the extremes of emotion—anger, deep sorrow, exuberant joy and all the shades of colors in-between— in such a way that nobody gets hurt.

• Awaken the body, open the heart, integrate the mind, stimulate the senses, stir the spirit, soothe the Soul and bring all these human faculties into harmony with each other.

• Bring people together, united by a common vibration vibration while listening or dancing—for as long as the music lasts.

• Bring the players in the band together in a way that nothing else does in quite the same way— for as long as the music lasts. 

• Communicate something across language difference and in the worlds before words begin and where words leave off. (The first language of babies and last language of Alzheimer patients.)

• Change our perception and experience of time, taking us out of clock time into music time.

• Offer a respite from the chaos of the world by entering a land where everything makes sense.

There’s more. But that’s a good start to explain what it’s ridiculous to have to explain. That music is worthy of our attention and worth devoting a lifetime to. 

And so I have. And so I will continue to, as long as the fates allow. 

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