When we listen to music playing, particularly a piece we know well, one that stirs us, we often feel that we are not just listening to the music, but that we are somehow inside it. Sure the music has an outside source, and technically speaking, that music comes through our senses and is in our brain. But at times it feels that we are inside the music rather than the music in us.
I’ve often thought about the paradox of a tree noiselessly falling in a forest without someone there to hear it crash down. Likewise, I’m sure a portable radio playing away in deep woods would be silent, its beautiful musical notes wasting away into space if there was no human ear to hear it.
But the opposite of this paradox makes me wonder: if there are no musical notes within a person, how can that person imagine them? Beethoven (1707-1827) wrote some of the most beautiful classical music, CDs of which can still be purchased in stores today. During the latter part of his life, Beethoven was totally deaf. From whence cometh his music?
Non-hearing Beethoven created his masterpieces never having heard them. It was if he lived inside his compositions and simply penned them out on paper. Is this not the complete opposite of the tree falling in the silent forest? Here, music is silently created in reality without any apparent source except the quiet genius of the human mind/brain.
Franz Schubert (1797 - 1828) composed operas, cantatas, masses, symphonies, quartets, chamber music of all kinds (musicwithease.com). One of his most famous pieces is the beginning of his final symphony; final, because the musician/composer died before completing it. It is reasonable to assume that he lived within the final movements of this “Unfinished Symphony” but they passed unwritten into non-being with his early death at age 31.
So what is this strange substance called music we allow to overtake us, body and spirit? It is often referred to as a language that brings to the listener definite emotions, thoughts, impressions, even political or sexual overtones: a lullaby, a Christmas carol, jazz, "The River" (Springsteen), a march, modern rap. The romantic heaving and thrusting until its eventual climax of Richard Wagner’s Prelude to Tristran and Isolde cannot help but imbue the listener with ideas of copulation and release. Similarly, I think the pounding spoken monotone of bass rap lyrics often leaves little to a prurient imagination.
Thinking back on Franz Schubert who already had in his mind plans to complete his “Unfinished Symphony,” and imagining deaf Beethoven creating powerful music entirely within himself, my own definition of music would be: music is any sound that is pleasing to a being. This definition does not say pleasing to the ear. How music pleases the brain/mind Science has yet to figure out.
So many cut away diagrams of the human auditory system depict a complex system of inner ear parts leading eventually to the auditory nerve. This pathway joins to the temporal lobe of the cortex in the brain. But how the brain makes consciousness appreciate melodic sound as music is up for grabs.