Saturday, September 08, 2018

Music, Mood and Me,

for Craig

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” ― Plato
“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.” ― Albert Einstein
“Music . . . can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.” ― Leonard Bernstein

For a long time now, I've believed in a before-life as well as an afterlife. As I think I've mentioned, I have no empirical evidence for either (of course), only a paraphrase from something Jodie Foster intoned in Contact, which is among my favourite movies:

I'll tell you one thing about Time, though. Time is a pretty big thing. It's bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before. So if it's just us... seems like an awful waste of time. Right?

(and yes, I know Time is an illusion -- lunchtime doubly so -- and everything that has ever happened or ever will happen is all happening in the Eternal Moment of Now, blah blah blah...shut up). I'm about to go on a wild ride. Are you ready, Steve? (Uh-huh.) Andy? (Yeah.) Mick? (Okay.) All right fellas, let's go!  

I don't believe that "dust you are, and to dust you shall return". No, dust is entirely the wrong word, the wrong thing.

Music. That is what we are, and to what we shall return.

This has a good beat and I can dance to it, so let me dance, okay?

I think we come from a state of Music. I think we return to that state, between incarnations.  You can call it the Music of the Spheres if you want to: me, I think it goes even deeper than that. For me, music pervades All That Is, if we only had ears to hear it.

These are a series of increasingly wild assertions. I get that. I have no logic chain to connect them. But there are some things I do know.

I know, for instance, that premature infants so undeveloped that they do not yet know they need to to suck...respond to music. Think about that...on some level, we're responding to music before food.

I know that throughout life,  listening to music lights up the entire brain.

I also know that on The Other Side Of Life, hospice workers often report that hearing is the last sense to depart us. I wonder if it ever truly does. Somehow I doubt it.

You know my funereal wishes. I've only got one song specifically requested there: the High Kings' recording of The Parting Glass. Try not to shiver when those pipes come in. I end up crying every time.  And the lyrics!

But since it fell unto my lot
That I should rise, and you should not
I'll gently rise, and softly call
Good night and joy be to you all

That one's essential. I do have others. John McDermott's recording of Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms, for Eva;  Joe Satriani's Ten Words, for Kathy; and Afro Celt Sound System's Release, for everyone else:

Reach out and you'll touch me
Make effort to speak to me
Call out and you'll hear me
Be happy for me...

That's my funeral. My deathbed is something altogether different. I waver back and forth on that one, between Mahler's 2nd symphony (the finale is probably the most glorious music I've ever heard, and so beautifully suited to a deathbed!) and Medtner's Sonata Reminiscenza, which has exactly the mix of yearning and nostalgia I expect to be feeling (if I don't drop dead of an embolism, in which case the only "music" I imagine I'll hear is something like this).


Music is not tangible. You can’t eat it, drink it, or mate with it. It doesn’t protect against the rain, wind, or cold. It doesn’t vanquish predators or mend broken bones. And yet humans have always prized music—or well beyond prized, loved it.

—Robert J. Zatorre, PhD, and Valorie N. Salimpoor, PhD

It's amazing how music can influence us. A couple of examples: classical, rather than top-40, music increases spending in 'sophisticated venues' like wine shops. The speculation is that since classical music is generally perceived as 'sophisticated'  (oh, really?), customers alter their behaviour to match the setting.
Craig tells me that slot machines play C-major chords. The psychology of this seems to be unknown, although C is the simplest chord, associated with childhood and innocence, which aren't things I'd pair with a casino. Interestingly, it seems the machines only play the fifth (C-G) or the octave (C-C') unless there's a payout, in which case you hear the full C-E-G chord. That 'completion' is something we subconsciously long for, in which the same way we want to hear chord progressions get resolved. (Imagine The Star Spangled Banner ending just before "brave", or O Canada ending just before "thee".)
We tend to match our gait to the tempo of the music we're hearing. Not to mention our mood. What would Jaws be without the E-F, E-F creeping ostinato?  As it turns out, they've studied that. Assemble a bunch of people to watch sharks swimming. Some people hear the Jaws theme, others hear the Ode To Joy, and a control group hears nothing. The people hearing the scary tune tell the researchers that sharks are "vicious"; those hearing the uplifting music say sharks are "graceful" and "beautiful".

Music is deeply associated with memory. I liken it to a kind of time travel: if I hear an iconic song, I'm instantly transported to the place and time in my life when that song made its mark on me. Alzheimer's patients respond very positively to favourite songs, even those who are beyond communicating with words. I'm telling you, music is part of us.

One of the first songs I remember singing, along with my mom: Jamaica Farewell (Kingston Town), by Harry Belafonte. My early life was STUFFED with the popular music of the seventies. When I think of my dad, I hear Andy StewartRoger Whittaker, about a dozen trucking tunes including this one, and of course more John McDermott (this one, like many of his, is a tear-jerker...and oh, yeah, my dad's still very much alive and kicking). Dad used to play the bagpipes, which might be why that High Kings "Parting Glass" affects me so much.
John introduced me to some slightly harder stuff. Like April WineHeart, and The Who, to go along with his enduring love of all things Beatles. But I still remember recoiling the first time I heard Cum On, Feel The Noise" (how many of you know Quiet Riot only covered this tune?) 
It took me a while to learn to appreciate things at the louder end of the spectrum, and to this day I don't have a problem with the actual music in things like this -- actually, I really like it -- but the vocals send me scrambling for the mute button...,     love? (That last one is right at the edge of what I can enjoy.) I love you, Eva.  ❤️
And some.......with.......Kathy.......too.  (Kathy, I love you.)  💜

If you're my friend, I've got at least one song for you. Some of you have several. And each time I hear them, you come to me, and are cherished and loved. Ask me sometime, if you would take me days to link them all. But Craig...these.......are.......some........of..........yours).

Music is what I am. It's what you are. It's what WE are. It's the great uniter, and it "hath charms to soothe the savage breast". May your life be your song....sing it loud, sing it proud, and make it count.

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