Monday, December 5, 2016

Music is an Art, Part 1

There’s more to life than writing. There’s more to writing than art. There’s more to art than writing.

In fact, there’s so much more to art than writing that writing is one of the oft-brushed over arts. It hangs in the background, pulling subtle strings in all of the other forms of art. These other forms include almost everything you can think of: painting, dance, theatre, pottery, life, and on and on the list goes.
One that we always admit is an art but rarely hold it up to the same standards we require from others is music. I’m a lover of music, a lover of the story found in music. I know a lot about music, even though I don’t play an instrument. I’ve mixed live music for five years, and learned from guys who have played and mixed music for decades of their lives and so much of my appreciation from music comes from what they taught me.
Today, and for a few other posts in the future, I want to talk about the art of music, and the art of appreciating and listening to it.

A Word of Caution

I’m not going to pick on specific genres here. Each genre, I believe, has its place. Each genre has good songs and poor songs, fantastic artists and mediocre artists. Much like other forms of art, it’s easy to find the flaws in certain genres while praising others, but we’re not here to do the easy thing.

Every genre has its place.
Every. Genre.
Those repetitive, mindless songs every dances to? Dance songs? They have a place.

What that place is, however, can be quite specific because the art behind those songs comes not from the song itself, but what people do with it.

So don’t expect to come in here and help me bash certain genres, nor to have to defend your favorite genre to my scathing remarks. In fact, I’ll do my best to avoid using specific examples when I talk about poorly crafted music. I may use specific examples when explaining good music, but it won’t be in a “this is the only good kind of music and the rest is trash” way.

Now that that’s over, let’s really look at music. Today, I want to look at the way music is truly an art, and a little bit about creating that art. Later I’ll talk about ways music can be made well and made poorly, and then even later I’ll spend some time talking about the influence of that art on our lives.

The Art in Music

It may seem obvious that music is an art, but why? What makes music an art, and why do we automatically accept that? It’s not that we’re ever really trained that music is an art. By the time our education suggests such a thing, we already believe it. Music is art.

Let’s consider the definition I like to use for art: art has a story to tell. All art has a story to tell. Even art that tells that story poorly has a story. Now, I realize this definition is rather constraining, but follow me for a moment: what story does music tell?

You can find dozens of examples of songs that tell stories blatantly, but it’s easier to find songs that don’t. Consider the music that most people immediately think of when they hear the words “fine art”: classical or neo-classical, am I right? We think of orchestras performing things like concertos or symphonies or some other fancy word for music notes arranged in a certain order for a certain amount of time for certain instruments to play at a certain, arbitrary beat.
How do those tell a story? Most of them have no lyrics, they’re just pleasant compilations of notes.

Consider, however, what stories do for us: they create emotion. And consider what classical music does for us: when we listen intently, we find our emotions stirring. Those patterns of air vibrations create emotion in us. There’s an implicit story in lyric-less music, when you’re looking for it. One fantastic example is found in the soundtracks of movies. The way the music ebbs and flows, buildings and cuts off, sways and jabs, these things create emotion in us. Music can build dread, and the lack thereof can create a tense punch of reality. If you listen carefully to the soundtrack of a movie you know well, you’ll find that you know exactly what’s happening in the story at any time, based simply on the music.
That’s powerful.

Now, not all music is performed on stage by fifteen-ninety people. Some music is composed and performed by one person alone in their basement. Music contained lyrics, words that can be completely senseless and void of substance (at which point, is it truly art or just noise?) or deep and powerful and thought-provoking.
There are times and places for deep, hard songs; there are times and places for light-hearted, simple creations. The story, however, is much more obvious in these songs. For instance, “Gun Song” by the Lumineers has a very clear story told within it, and provokes fantastic emotions when you really pay attention. “Trees” by Twenty One Pilots also has a story deep within the lyrics, but it takes more time and effort and concentration to understand and truly see it.

Why Music Matters

We find music everywhere in our lives: it’s an art we can never get away from. It fills us with emotions and flits away in a moment, leaving us without giving us the tools to handle those emotions.

Music can be used to sway. The subtle way it creates emotion and stimulates a response allows it to have extraordinary control over us. What should our reaction to this be? Fear?
No. Fear is a rather useless emotion in many situations.
Rather, we should be aware of music and the power it has. Then, we can use it as it’s truly meant to be used: as an art, to be observed and appreciated and needed.


  1. *applause* Classical music is /full/ of stories, most people just don't realize it.

    1. EXACTLY. I love the stories in classical music, especially when you find a new one after several listenings, you know?