Are we music?
This may, on the surface, seem like a nonsensical and improper sentence. Implausible, you might say. But I think too much, and this is what happens. If I don't let it out it will find a way to escape from my mouth via my brain anyway, probably in poor form, and without as much panache as I would prefer.
Here's what I'm asking.
There have been billions upon billions of people born, raised, and passed on since the beginning of man's existence on earth.
For every so many people born, is there a melody to correspond?
The history of known music can only go back so far. We have recordings from as far back as the late 1800's. We have sheet music from a few hundred years before that. Asia and Africa and the Middle East have musical traditions which go further that we can even imagine.
As Westerners, we can plot out a pretty distinct history which goes back to the settling of America, but the Native Americans have songs which go back to a time before any of us Euro-trash (sorry) came on the scene. And when we arrived we brought our music. We came with harpsichords and violins, trumpets and tubas, drums and piccolos, and we laid down our proverbial boom-box on the ground in front of the tribe elders and said, "Check this, old man. This shit is dope!" ... for lack of a better phrase.
Now, I'm of course, not suggesting that there is a song for every person ever conceived. Rather, the propagation of music and the proliferation of genres I can see reflecting the many varied types of races, ethnicities, and personality types that have existed and continue to thrive and evolve as we do.
There are the Italians with Opera (amorous and wild); the Poles with the Polka (celebratory and determined); The Portuguese with Fado (sly and contemplative); the Mexicans with Mariachi (festive and alive); the Africans with what started as folk songs and transitioned into slave songs (rhythmically defensive and strong willed); and the list goes on and on and on, almost limitlessly. And it stands to reason that each culture has millions, if not billions of songs which have been imagined, created and performed for at the very least the composer themselves, and at the very most vast legions of countrymen singing battle songs en route to a siege; a ballpark full of fans singing a national anthem; or even a nation hearing taps together, over the airwaves, and following along with the melody in their heads.
It just boggles my mind how much music has probably been imagined, performed, and heard.
For every culture there is a catalogue of music that can be singled out either with a CD or a record or a reel-to-reel or even a wax cylinder. And then you go back further and you have to rely on families passing popular songs on to their children and their children passing that on, and so on.
And then there is a wealth of music that was made and not preserved for future generations. Maybe it was improvisational. Maybe it was a ballad written for an unrequited love and played only once and then mentally shredded. Maybe it was a madman who whistled a tune in an institution to the windowless walls around him. Maybe it was a symphony scored by one of the Masters and discarded in a fit, never to be performed or re-written.
I feel it is similar with our human presence in this world. We have only so many written records of families dating back to only as far back as when records were kept. How many lives were lived and forgotten? How many families, who once gathered on the porch or in the parlor to sing songs that they either were taught or had written, are no more?
Certainly in the world of rock and roll there are hundreds of thousands of songs, and that's one genre of many.
There are cultures which modern man has yet to even acknowledge living in remote parts of the world. I can guarantee you they have a back catalogue of as much music as you can imagine and I'm talking about people who documenting capabilities as rudimentary as early man.
Do you see where I'm getting at here?
From the first mellifluous cry a baby makes, to the first time a birthday song is acknowledged, to the first lullaby, and on to nursery rhymes, Christmas carols, movie and television themes, pop songs, rock songs, wedding themes, and funeral dirges, the music we hear and live, I feel, mirrors the people who we meet--even for a second in passing on a subway car.
And just as we as humans continue to procreate, age, and die, so does our music. While a song doesn't truly die until the last recording has been destroyed and the last brain which holds its melody ceases to pass electricity, the popularity of a melody can turn cold and lifeless and perhaps fade into obscurity. I suppose that music needs new space to live and flourish just like we do. And for each song which becomes passe there is someone writing the next big thing in their living room or recording studio. They are procreating in their minds to fill the world with a melody that can make us feel something, even if that something is imperceptible.
I feel part of this process with all my heart and soul. I have written a paltry amount of music compared to most, but each song is special. Some I like better than others, some I can't stand, some I don't even remember because I relegated them to the mental trash can years ago--an excommunication if you will.
But, in saying that, we are all part of the living, breathing, expanding, all-encompassing world of music. We are all as responsible as the next person to keep the traditions alive and to add to its colorful catalogue. We hum a song we just heard on the radio while we wait in line to pay for a tub of yogurt in the same way we remember the person who we met in the library who helped us find a book. We see their face again in a removed situation and recognize it like we hear a melody that once floated into our ears through the radio, and we remember how we liked it so.
And sometimes I wonder if the world I see on the news is really as bad as they say it is. I think about how some people can commit horrendous crimes or be so callous as to let negligence cause human catastrophe. And when I do, I have to remember that as much focus as you can put one situation under there is a limitless supply of happenings all around you, in the past, present, and future, and each one carries the opportunity to become part of a melody.
And I know that these situations too shall pass, like they always do. The song will end, and the needle will bat back and forth in the banded groove until we pick it up, return it to safety, and turn the machine off.
We can only feel the melody move us when it's in the air outside of our eardrums ... and then it stops ... and we have to remember ... because it is just vibrations, just like we all are.
Are we music?
I tend to think yes.
Thanks for reading,