Friday, June 06, 2008
Music of the Spheres
Today I was reading Harper’s Magazine, June 2008, when I encountered a quote from a musical philosopher, Victor Zuckerlandl, “Hearing a melody is hearing, having heard, and about to hear, all at once. Every melody declares to us that the past can be there without be remembered, the future without being foreknown.” (p 91). I stopped; time is a human construct, and I’ve written about this earlier. God’s time is then, now, someday all at once. Zuckerlandl is saying that musical time is the same as God’s time.
Wow! What a wonderful concept!
The review was of “Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain” by Oliver Sacks, and the reviewer, Zalmen Rosenfeld, also discusses music’s ability to change human emotional states. Now, I’ve known this for years. I am able to dissipate my anger (as generalized as my anxiety) by listening to hard rock music – letting the music drown me in its mesmerizing repetition and loudness. I usually follow this period of hard rock with a softer, more spiritual vocal music whose poetry has meaning for me.
For instance, my iPod has a playlist that includes Free Bird, Cocaine, and some Janis Joplin. This is my hard rock list, and I play it often when I’m on the treadmill, sometimes forgetting how long I’ve been there. Following this expiation of sin and anger comes what I call a spiritual playlist – Enya’s “How Can I Keep from Singing”, Rufus Wainwright’s “Hallelujah”, Sweet Honey in the Rock’s “Wade in the Water”, and other such songs. It also includes the very staccato rendition of “God is Alive, Magic is Afoot” (written by the same composer as Hallelujah) by Buffy St. Marie.
Songs connect with my emotions. I have trouble with lots of music; nothing peaceful in me resonates to the high notes of opera. I cover my ears and feel like cowering in a corner. Does this reflect the parental arguments when I was a child? Perhaps. For Zuckerlandl reminds us that music is then, now and someday – the arguments are very present for me when I listen to opera. Unfortunately, the cowering feeling also occurs when I am amongst much noise. My chest is getting tight just writing about this.
Changing my thoughts to Pachebel’s Canon in D, I can feel the tightness slipping away – or is it the clonazepam that I took earlier?
Still, I recognize in me the connection between music and my emotional climate, between the past and the present and how I perceive the future will be. Music can bring the past into immediacy and stretch it out for several hours or days. “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” brings such past into now. I am transported to the back seat of a 1949 Plymouth sedan with Mom and David and me singing, and immediately to David’s funeral, and the loss of my beloved brother is once again unbearable…at least for a few moments. I’m learning to control this “flashback”.
I will never think that my choice of music is random, and now I know more about how to use music in healing my emotional wounds, transporting me into more people-friendly moods, and preparing me for whatever I face.