Essays About


Curiously, I enjoy the same music more at a live show than on a home stereo. Why should this be? Objectively, the concert music is no better, only louder. My enjoyment is more intense because my attention is more intense. At home, I am a skimmer of sensory experience, the music playing in the background as I read the mail. At a concert, the world recedes, and I am simplified into a consciousness of sound. I hear riffs and instruments never heard in the deafness of my distraction. Inner simplification lets in the music's complexity.

The blind hear best because their ears lack competition; the deaf see best. Lovers close their eyes to concentrate on touch. Like wind through a narrow pass, the world enters us more forcefully when it must squeeze through a single sense.

Playing my music albums in my car, I hum half-indifferently, too familiar with the melody to be intrigued by it. Why then, if I hear the same song played by a sidewalk musician or coming through department store speakers, do I instantly wake with admiration for it, my ears strangely gaining a new delicacy to feel the contours of every note? Similarly, why do concert-goers scream at the start of every song they recognize, when they never screamed at home? Is this our vanity saying to the world, behold me, I know this? The song we snubbed in solitude is now being honored, and we wish to assert our association, like a man who never desired his wife until his neighbor paid her interest. Our complacency as owners is replaced by our longing as outsiders.

It must grieve dead composers that their symphonies and concertos are regarded by the masses as perfectly suited for background music. The compositions worthiest of analysis go not only unanalyzed but almost unheard, merely filling awkward silence in elevators and waiting rooms, or setting a mood for sipping cocktails or making love. Subtlety and complexity in art sadly tend to undermine themselves. They cost more labor with less effect. They are hard to notice, in proportion as they are hard to create.

For the young, music is an intimation of life. Each sonata or concerto cracks, but does not fully open, the door to worlds not yet experienced. The violin, singing of unknown desires, stirs desire. The cymbals' crescendo resounds with heights of elation not yet relished. The bass drum booms a cryptic proclamation of great events—happening where? For the old, music is a memoir of life. The buried strata of past experience, loosened by the mysterious psychoanalysis of sound, erupt into consciousness. Sorrows and joys which played singly through time now harmonize into a grand symphonic impression of the tremendousness of living. Must not the brittle self shatter to have been poured so full of experiences?

In a concert hall, the girl in bloom closes her eyes and imagines all she may be, while beside her the wrinkled widow closes her eyes and remembers all she has been.

At concerts, moved by a beautiful song, we are drawn to the songmaker's soul, the wellspring of the song's beauty. If the glow she gives off in melody and words is so wonderful, how luminous it must be in the inner chamber of her being! Most likely, though, her soul's hearth is cold, for she has sung this song nightly to audiences for six months straight. Habit has deadened her to every feeling except loathing for another repetition. She was moved once, when she wrote the song, when she was the surprised and admiring audience of her own inspiration. But now she is only another instrument she herself plays, a flute deaf to its own sound.