Dear Musician - The Meaning of Music
By Dendy Jarrett |
Dear Musician - What's the Meaning of Music?
The answer is...there is no answer
by Dendy Jarrett
“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” - Aldous Huxley
Music can bring people tears of joy or touch the kind of profound sadness that causes tears of a different kind. Music can start a peace movement or create martial music that accompanies the drums of war.
Music can express the pain of Trent Reznor trying to make his way through a complex and frightening world or the joy of Johann Sebastian Bach trying to transcend the physical world and touch God. It can manipulate the emotions of the audience watching a movie or heal people in ways that science still doesn’t quite understand.
So what exactly is the meaning of music? The answer is simple: there isn’t any inherent meaning. None. Music is a shape-shifter, and that shape depends totally on the musician creating the shape.
The dictionary would have you believe that music does have a definition, and by their standards, it sounds so simple. Wouldn’t it be easy to dismiss music as something so simple if it yook only one shape?
This was brought home to me recently by a friend who’d written a very dark song with a theme about gaining independence from a relationship that had come to feel like a prison. But then he decided there were better and deeper ways to shape the music. He changed the theme to reflect how good it would be for the people involved to become independent from each other—how they could pursue their own dreams and their own lives. He didn’t really change the music much; even the lyrics weren’t all that different. But it felt different. Music, the shape-shifter, had flipped its shape.
The significance here isn’t changing from negative to positive. Sure, positive attitudes are great, but the world isn’t all a bed of roses. Music needs to be able to look harsh truths straight in the eye, as well as celebrate joy. No, the significance here is that music is here to serve you, and, like creating a sculpture, you determine its shape.
Because music itself means nothing, you can have it mean anything. You can exorcise your demons like John Lennon, celebrate a higher force like John Coltrane, use music to raise money for philanthropic causes like John Legend, or tell stories like Johnny Cash. Music has power. Music will do your bidding and shift its shape to whatever you want.
So, in truth, the question isn't "what is the meaning of music?"
The real question is this: how will you shape your music? -HC-
Dendy Jarrett is the Publisher and Executive Director of Harmony Central. He has been heavily involved at the executive level in many aspects of the drum and percussion industry for over 25 years and has been a professional player since he was 16. His articles and product reviews have been featured in InTune Monthly, Gig Magazine, DRUM! and Modern Drummer Magazines.