Monthly Archives: April 2015

What do I like most about music?

For the record, I love when students leave me messages on my office door whiteboard. I’ve gotten some pretty creative messages and even some pictures. (I’ve been meaning to create an album to share them. One day…)

Anyway, here’s the latest message:


Before I get to my answers, I’d like to thank whomever posted these questions. When I first saw this message, I thought the answers were going to be pretty straightforward. Upon further reflection, however, the answers weren’t so simple. Surprisingly, these are questions I haven’t been asked very often, despite my career choice. I’ve gotten lots of questions about music theory specifically, what music theorists do, and why I chose this specialized field, but I’ve seldom been asked about music in general and my personal connection to it. It’s been a while since I’ve reflected on this. Here goes:

I like that music is a vehicle for expression. Regardless of genre, composer, or time period, the essence of music is its underlying humanity. In general, that’s what art is: the expression of what it is to be human. Through art, we can reflect on and share our experiences. Fear. Betrayal. Joy. Depression. Anger. Jubilation. Humor. Sarcasm. Longing. Desperation. Hope. Exhilaration. Confusion. Pride. Music, in particular, has the ability to reach people on a base, visceral level in a way that other media cannot.

I also like the fact that music connects people. It provides commonalities between people who otherwise would have almost nothing in common. When I watch concert footage of U2, for example, I’m amazed that there are thousands of fans who, despite speaking very little English (or even none at all), can sing every one of Bono’s lyrics. If I were to hum the opening motive to Beethoven’s 5th symphony, chances are someone within a stone’s throw will know something about that piece of music, regardless of their social background or musical experience.

Essentially, what I like most about music is that it’s multi-purpose. It can tell a deeply personal narrative or arouse public sentiment. It can be a call to arms or a reminder to reflect. It can set the mood for a scene or situation. It can be a distraction or an escape or a lifeline. It can be mentally stimulating, physically demanding, or emotional exhausting; many times it’s all three at once! It can be a communal experience or an outlet for individual expression. Music can be used to make a political statement or for pure entertainment, existing for the sole purpose of being enjoyed in the moment and nothing more.

I stay passionate about music through active engagement. Though I never had the chops to be a professional performer, I still enjoy playing the piano and singing. These activities help me connect with  music on a physical level. And when my physical abilities have reached their limits (which, admittedly, aren’t very high), the intellectual side takes over. That’s what attracts me to music theory in the first place: It gives the opportunity me to engage music from a new perspective. Theory allows me to be actively involved with pieces of music I can’t play and further deepens my understanding of the music that I can perform. Ultimately, my physical and intellectual engagement necessarily affect my emotional connection to music. Through music, my body and my mind help enrich my soul.