Thursday, April 14, 2011

Music is...

What is music, and who is it for? Is it for the high and mighty? is it for the layman? Is it for the audience? Is it for the composer? What purpose is it supposed to serve? Does it bring glory to the composer? Or the performer/s? Who is it for?

These are questions I've been wrestling with in my head for a while, seeing some of the responses around me to music. This is probably appropriate as well, seeing as I have been student teaching (and having a wonderful time of it) in the music area of education this entire semester. I believe, now, that I have some, and at least partial, answers to my questions stated above. To answer the later questions, however, I must first define the first question.

What is music? My awesome cooperating teacher has a definition that I completely agree with, that she thinks she got from her cooperating teacher. Her definition is this:

Music is sounds and silences organized for meaningful expression.

Sounds and silences. So, rests and any type of sounds are music? Does this mean that the clap of a hand, or the shout of a voice, or the percussive ring of wood on metal have as much musical claim as the song of a violin, or the wail or an oboe, or the lumbering of a tuba? I would argue that yes, they do, as long as they are organized for meaningful expression. If the clap of a hand or the shout of a voice express something the way the composer wishes, then we can call it music.

Now that we've defined music, now we can answer the next question.

Who is music for?

Now, for as long as humans have been able to make noise, they have been making music. The first stringed instrument wasn't much different than one small hunting bow brushing the string of a larger hunting bow. The first wind instrument was probably very similar to a panpipe or conch shell. The first real instrument was the human voice.

In the early ages of the Christian church, music was only for church. The making of music outside the church was strictly frowned upon, because they believed that any music that wasn't created to glorify and worship God was not right. As the years past, and Henry the VIII broke from the tradition of the Catholic church (and even before this time), thoughts changed. Music was still for church, certainly, but now you could have "church music" and you could have "secular music," music that didn't have to have more of a purpose than bringing enjoyment to the listener.

But then the music was for the high and mighty. The laymen, the workers in the fields, could only get music in church on Sunday, if they went. The rich, the nobles and the lords of the land would higher traveling musicians for their courts so they were never without song, but rarely was song heard elsewhere.

Ever so slowly music started to move towards pleasure for the common man. It was in this era that composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, George Fredrick Handel, and Dieterich Buxtehude (Bach's personal idol) composed and performed. Only, they did not perform for themselves. They composed music and then performed for the enjoyment of their employers, or for the church. Sure, they enjoyed music, but it wasn't for them in the long run.

And then wild, crazy Mozart came along. He who would not be beholden to tradition decided that he was going to try and make it on his own, without living with people and playing music for them for room and board. He broke the mold that other composers had lived by, or at least he tried. The mold never really broke until Beethoven came along.

Beethoven was a firey man who had a massive temper, generally because he couldn't hear. He was known to shout at performers when they couldn't get his music right, but even through this firey personality, his music, the emotions in his music still managed to make people cry. Listening to his 9th symphony with the chorus gives me goosebumps every time. With Beethoven suddenly music became for the masses.

As music became more relatable, composers would compose pieces that were meant to be played only in the privacy of the house. Many of the world premiers of some of the really famous pieces were for a small number of people. Music was never invented for the performer. Yes, it could be enjoyed by the person who performed it, but it was created so that in the quiet of the house a mother could rock her child to sleep, a man could storm in anger, a young girl could express her love-sick anguish. Music in any shape or form, in any tribe or language around the world, has always been for the people, for the audience. It is the call to a wedding, a funeral, a calming time, a time for war, and a time to just sit and listen.

So, my final conclusion to this super long post is that music is for anyone who has ears to hear it and a brain to enjoy it. It is not about the performer, though the performer can certainly listen and enjoy the music they are producing, but it is about the audience. That is why, with everything, both the composer and the performer have to consider their audience. Who are they playing for? Who will they influence? In what way do they wish to influence their listeners? In essence, music is not about us, the musicians, but it is about the people around us. Every time we perform, we are serving the people listening to us, and as either professional musicians, or strong amateur musicians, our job is to get out of ourselves and what people think of us and to perform an act of service for them.

So my challenge to all musicians out there is this: go out and influence the people around you for good through the music you make, whether it is a foot stomp, or a cello string, a train whistle, or a clarinet's soulful sigh. It's in your hands now. Do with it what you will.