I finally got a chance to watch this this morning. It’s excellent and instructive in a number of ways which others have pointed out. I would venture to say that most people who claim to hate classical music have probably never listen to much of it, if any.
What this reminds me of is the fact that music communicates without any words whatsoever. Chopin doesn’t need lyrics to tell us what kind of emotions or attitude to have during the music. Words or explanation can enhance that, to be sure. But no one listens to this Chopin prelude to get hyped up for a basketball game. Listening to this piece tells you why without any explanation.
It reminds me of another of my favorite pieces of music, the Moonlight Sonata. One only needs to listen to it to understand why it’s not entitled “Victory Parade” or “Wedding March.” It does not need a single word to communicate to us how utterly incompatible it is with either occasion. It’s not even “Sunlight Sonata” for obvious reasons. And my guess is that has nothing to do with culture. It’s instinctive.
This short lecture also reminds me how effectively music communicates expectations. This lecturer demonstrates that when he asks everyone to sing the next note, and everyone knows what that note is … Except it isn’t. Chopin actually goes somewhere else.
In musical terms, I explain it this way. The tonal, or the I chord (for instance, the C chord in a piece written in the key of C) clearly signifies the end of a phrase (and often a piece). So when a piece goes to the F chord (or the IV chord, so called because it is four musical steps up from the I or the C chord), everyone knows that it isn’t the end. There needs to be some resolution. But no one has to explain that. It needs no words. The music itself tells you that. There’s nothing immoral about a IV chord. It is a necessary part of any music. It just doesn’t fit in certain places. (This can be easily demonstrated on a piano or guitar, but I don’t feel like recording that here and now.)
In life terms, I explain it this way: You are coming down the steps in the middle of the night and you think you have reached the bottom. And all your weight is positioning itself for that next step which is exactly on the same level as the last step. Except that there is one more step. I did this one night. I fell on my face in the living room floor. Fortunately there was no one there to see it, and if you ever repeat this story, I will deny it. But suffice it to say that I had an expectation that wasn’t met.
Music does that. It creates expectations, without any words. And when those expectations aren’t met, it jars us a bit at some level.
His playing of the Chopin piece is great in that in the middle of it there is a distinct section that gets a bit more energetic, or dare I say, agitated. And yet no one needs to say, “Here comes the agitation, or the change.” We don’t need words. The music itself tells us that.
Another one of my favorite works is Holst’s The Planets. Fabulous music, in my opinion. Particularly Mars. Compare that with the Chopin Prelude that is found on this video. And ask yourself which you would put your baby to sleep with, and why. And it won’t take an advanced degree in music to answer that.
So what’s my point in this whole thing?
My point is that the idea that music is “amoral” and can be used for anything at anytime depending on what words you put with it is so utterly absurd that it is laughable that anyone suggests that. Music needs no words to communicate with us.
By saying that, I am not saying (at this point) that any type of music is inherently sinful or wicked. That’s not my point at all. I am not even saying that the response to music is universal … that all people in all cultures understand music the exact same way. My point is that some types of music are inappropriate for some things, and we do not need to lyrics to know that. It is self-evident.
(BTW, listen to this and try to figure it out before the words start. And don’t cheat by looking at the mouseover that shows the link. Seriously, it makes me laugh how utterly incompatible the music and the words are. And at this point I am not saying anything about the music style.)
Now there is a lot of meat here to chew on and expound on and my point isn’t to do that. Perhaps later I will broach this again.
I would only say this: Don’t say that music is amoral and that any type of music can be used for anything depending on what words you put with it.
No thinking person believes that. If someone does believe that, it’s only because they aren’t thinking. They are simply trying to defend the indefensible.
Strong? Sure. But self-evident.
And if you doubt that, go look and see what type of music they play at different times in their day and in their lives. See what they put their babies to bed with and what they put on the Ipod to exercise to. See what they listen to when they are emotionally down. You will see that they instinctively know that certain types of music create certain types of atmospheres and moods.
Music communicates in and of itself. It teaches us what to think. BTW, that’s why movie music works. It teaches you what to think about what is going on on the screen in front of you. The narrator need not say, “Be scared right now.” The music says it all by itself.
I wish I had a good ending for this, but I don’t, so let me just get to the I chord and say “Bye for now.”