On Music

Our local library has free concerts every month by local artists. We go, and take all of the kids. It’s free, so no one can get too annoyed when they are children, and occasionally disruptive, and it’s free, so we can afford to take them. Where else will they learn how to behave at a concert than… at a concert? I really want my kids to experience live music as I did when I was growing up. There is something about seeing how those sounds are made that changes one’s perspective about it.

I’m fascinated by how technology has changed the way we perceive music. One hundred years ago all music was live. If music was wanted in the private home, someone who lived there needed to become a musician. Instruments were played, songs were sung, music was a communal experience. If people wanted to hear an orchestra, they had to go to a concert hall, to rub shoulders with other people in their community, to see the people who worked hard to perfect their art. Dancing required musicians. More than one part required relationship with other people. Singing in church would sound so different and inspire reverence because of the unique, to them, experience of standing within the sound of many voices uplifted together. The music would swell all around and pass through you and it’s source would be your family, your friends, your neighbors, and sometimes your enemies.

How strange then that in the space of 100 years people use music to shut themselves away. Teenagers lock themselves in their room to listen to “their” music. People put their earphones in and retreat aurally from the world around them through the music of their choice. Something that was once so wonderfully communal is now a tool of isolation. But what I find most intriguing is that we all live with a sound track. We go to the store, we hear music piped in, music in elevators, music in cars, music in coffee shops as a back ground to the many conversations, music in movies, and music wherever we want it thanks to portable listening devices. We don’t hear the sound of silence all that often any more. And we tend to take music for granted. Does anyone ever really listen any more?

A concert, especially a classical concert, is one of the few places where one must listen, where everyone is silent, where experiencing the music is the focus, where talking over top of it is not allowed. So I take my kids to concerts. We go early so they can get used to the place, so that they can choose seats and wiggle a little, so that they can look at the instruments and get their questions out before the playing starts.

This week it was a piano quartet playing Beethoven, and then Brahms. A very good quartet in my opinion. I think my favorite moment is the few seconds at the beginning of a piece. After the talking is over the musicians settle their bodies and their instruments, an expectant hush grows over the audience and then there is a breath, a nod, an upraised wrist and sound, rich vibrant skillfully blended notes are pulled from wood and wire as if by magic. The Baby is always awed by this. We sit at the back and she alone is unaware of the hush at the beginning, until it is broken by sound and she becomes still, and pulls her body as tall as she is able as she searches for the source of the magic. This week the GH lifted her by her legs so she could see and she stretched out as tall as she could staring towards the musicians.

This week she also started singing along, something she’s begun to do recently. I love her singing. She actually pulls notes out of her little throat, not just vocalizations, most often singing a descending 4th, in case you wanted to know. And then we run into one of the problems with live music, at least, live chamber music. Singing along with the musicians by the audience is not encouraged. In fact it is frowned upon. One shouldn’t add notes to Beethoven. So one of us usually takes her out of the room and she toddles around in the hallway, or we go all the way to the children’s section of the library. One day I will sit all the way through a piece of music again, and listen with my brain and my heart, but not yet. In the meantime, my children are and I love to see it.

The Boy listens, really listens. He hums the themes on the way home. He asks thoughtful questions. The Girl is perhaps more glad of the time sitting next to a parent who is doing nothing for the moment except for hugging her and listening. But she’s the least musical of the three, and in time she may come to care about the music itself as well. If she were allowed to dance however, that would be another story. She loves to dance.

I hope by taking them to hear live music that they become more aware of what they hear. Just like I want them to be aware when they look, when they move. I don’t want them to take beauty for granted. I am the mom who stops to listen to street performers, who has let my children stand and stare at the man playing the violin at the train station. Literally. Too bad for us it wasn’t Joshua Bell (See Pearls Before Breakfast) but the musicians we do stop to listen to are playing their best too. One thing I am sure of. If Joshua Bell had been busking 100 years ago, in the same spot, I think he’d have drawn a crowd. I don’t think his music would have been taken for granted the same way it was during the Washington Post experiment. IS it possible to have too much beauty? Does too much make us jaded?

The one thing that I find heartbreaking about that article is this quote.

Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.

I don’t want to be that parent. I know we all are sometimes, we have to be to keep life moving, but I hope, I want, to be the kind of parent who leaves room for wonder, who allows beauty and creativity in all it’s inconvenient messy glory.

all content © Carrien Blue

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