My music life started literally seated at my father’s feet as he played the piano. I was fascinated that such incredible sounds could come out of this unusual piece of furniture. Don’t ask what my age was. I don’t know. Its’s like it’s always been there. I could imagine that my birth was accompanied as I heard the angels sing. Before you toss that all away with my obvious attempt to give more significance to my birth than it is due, just know that I hear music every waking moment of my life and it’s been that way as long as I can remember. Whatever I am hearing in my head is quickly and completely silenced in favor of the music in my ears. To me, music is everywhere. Have you ever sat quietly on a Spring day and enjoyed the music of the wind whistling through the trees? Have you ever been mesmerized by the sweet sounds of one songbird singing to another? If the answer is “no”, please give yourself a special seat at Mother Nature’s concert. During my childhood I learned to play the clarinet. It just seemed to have a wonderful, natural warm sound and it struck me as being a beautiful way to make music.
I played competitive clarinet in music festivals throughout my high school years. My clarinet was my most reliable, loyal and trustworthy companion. When I began to socialize and date girls I often heard “You don’t care much about me. It’s just your clarinet that is your most intimate companion!” To that I would just smile and try to assure my friend that she was important too. Frankly, I probably was not very convincing. I performed in high school marching bands and concert bands. I went to college and majored in Chemistry because my father wanted me to be a doctor. It was his personal lifetime dream and he had looked forward to the day his two sons would have the initials “M.D.” behind their names. That was never to be for my brother or for me. A dispute with the head of the Chemistry department at Tennessee State A & I University was all it took for me to change my major to music. I later became the concert master of the university’s concert band. I won’t bore you with all the details of the rest of my college career. I will simply say I carried my clarinet with me everywhere I went and do so even today.
Today, my wife was playing a video recording of a wonderful symphonic orchestra performing Ravel’s “Bolero”. To say I was captivated and inspired would be an understatement. I challenge you to play a video of that composition with your stereo speakers at a relatively high volume. Concentrate on the wonderful pace of that music’s beginning that is strong but relatively quiet. Ravel understood the magical power of musically building intensity and emotion from beginning to end of that marvelous composition.
If you have never had the privilege of playing an instrument in a performing symphony orchestra, please let me share with you some of my feelings about the experience. You sit on a stage, all around you there are super talented individuals, masters of their chosen instruments. They’re sitting side by side. They may not speak the same spoken language. They may have different nationalities or ethnicities, but they are working together. They are combining their individual understanding of a composition and working under the direction of one person called the conductor. Together they are performing as if all of that combined sound comes from one single instrument called the orchestra. If you are playing the video, take a look at the body language of the musicians, see them physically respond to the demands of the music. See if you can feel at least some of what they do. I cannot describe the emotional fulfillment and thrill of performing with such a talented and diverse group of people.
But let’s not limit our understanding of musical instruments without acknowledging the divine sound of the human voice. Occasionally composers will write music that combines the sounds of a symphony orchestra with the natural beauty of a choir. Each complementing and accompanying the other. From time to time the composition will demand separate solos from specific mechanical instruments and a human voice. Your entire emotional being can be caught up and mesmerized in ways that can only be called magic.
Don’t misunderstand me. I have no desire to restrict my definitions or feelings about the world of music to only that of the recognized masters. Music is great in any form. Whether it is Reggae, Rock, R & B, Ravel or Country, it’s great and moving. There are so many stories that cannot be told by any means other than the lyrics, harmonies and rhythms of music. One can honestly say music offers something for everybody. It does a wonderful job of defining and entertaining a wide variety of people from diverse cultures. I know of no other way so much can be accomplished so easily.
I studied music under the instruction of the head of the music department at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri. He was famous for a lot of things. One of the many statements he made that I remember is as follows: There are three types of musicians. The first type is the composer. Without his genius in feeling and understanding sounds and documenting them in some fashion, there would be no man-made music. The second type is the performer. What good is it to have these wonderful ideas available to use if no one performed them? I was surprised to hear Dr. Fuller say the most important and necessary musician is the listener. He said if there was no one available to appreciate these wonderful sounds they would have limited value. In short, you may be a highly talented musician and not know it.
I believe music is the universal language of the soul. It is not owned or expressed by any one person, group or nation. It seems that whether it is the melodic songs of the birds or it is the expression of over a hundred super talented orchestral musicians, one can only wonder if all of this is God’s gift to all living things. Enjoy!