I wish I could play music. I wish there was an instrument with which I could vent my pent up emotions. I wish I could give a voice to the little melodies that soundtrack my otherwise often lifeless days. That talent would be priceless to me. But alas, I am limited to listening to album after album, searching for a outside talent that speaks the language that I understand. I’ve met with mixed success on this quest, finding some good and some bad and a whole lot that leaves me indifferent. On the way I have discovered a few things about the way music works, and what it means, at least for me.
Its when your head first starts subconsciously bobbing to a song that you realize how many different types of music there are, how many permutations of beats and melodies there are that are pleasant to hear, that speak directly to you. Then you think how many people there are in the world, and about how each of them have their own sets of beats and melodies, only some of which overlap with yours. The whole world seems to open up with possibility. On top of that, if you happen to be doing something while listening to a particular song, it gets all wrapped up in how you feel, or how you felt when you first heard it. The funny thing is, that song is wrapped up in how everyone else first felt when they heard it. Each song, on paper the same combination of beats and notes, is therefore different according to the varied experience of the listener. It would seem then that there are billionsof songs to be played out there.
Admittedly, music is not unique in this respect. Works of the visual and literary arts too can posses varying meanings depending on the beholder. What makes music unique is its almost universal accessibility which means it has an ability to evoke moods in anybody, regardless of musical literacy. Nearly everybody has a favorite song, and nearly everybody frequently interacts with music on some level, for some purpose, be it the radio, an idevice, commercials or television shows. Indeed, music is often used explicitly for its dependable ability to evoke emotions. An entire industry has sprouted up around the ability of music to create feelings, manifest emotions, and recall memories. Of course, we do the same thing in our lives: we curate long playlists to evoke moods and memories. In our lives we go through phases that wax and wane and each phase has its own unique soundtrack.
So where does all of this leave music? What role should music play in our lives? Is it a mood setter or a time capsule? Is it an art of reflection or an art of projection? The obvious answer is that music is all of the above, that music is defined by the listener. This conclusion reassures me: while I cannot create music, I can create the context for music. I can define what music means for me, I can use music in new and creative ways to enrich and explain my life. Being unable to compose or perform does limit my options, but it does not confine me to a finite set of possibilities. Instead of being the sum of music I have created during my life, I am the sum of music I have curated during my life.