A friend observed something interesting about me the other night. It’s not too surprising, since we’re usually blind, deaf and dumb to so much of ourselves. After a wonderful concert I was talking about some interesting things the musicians had been doing. “How come you can hear individual players on stage but have problems with individual voices in a crowded room or pub?” Translation: “How can you hear each of the instruments and talk about chord progressions when you can’t hear a word I say most of the time?”
My short answer: I lived that music, any old way you choose it. And more than rock ‘n roll, there are a lot of other genres hard-wired to my synapses. But rock? I liked it loud – and it’s taken a toll on a number of frequencies in my auditory range. In those days if anyone was telling us we’d ruin our hearing, we weren’t listening. While my hearing aint anywhere near what it used to be, I’d like to think my listening skills have improved since then. [At least I hope they have.]
But there’s another, perhaps even more important, reason.
Music and many other sounds – nature, city streets and other environmental sounds – are languages by themselves. They’re languages that bypass the brain and go straight to the soul. As The Little Prince told us, “The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart.”
These sounds move us in ways words can’t adequately describe. For most of us, the difference between sound and noise lies in whether it helps us feel good or bad. In either case, music creates or restores memories, emotions and associations. People working with the memory-impaired can testify to music’s restorative and calming powers. Scientists can map changes in brainwaves triggered by different types of music. But let’s face it, in day-to-day life, we don’t go that far. We either like something or we don’t. It makes us feel good or it doesn’t. It reminds us of an experience or it doesn’t. And even if you don’t accept music’s status as a language, can you at least admit to its role as a mood-altering drug?
When we learn to listen to music [or partake in nearly any other art form] we expand our vocabulary. We find we have more ways of expressing our thoughts, new ways of expressing our feelings. Different languages simply give us different words for the same things. Know multiple languages? You simply have a larger vocabulary than monolinguists. Your brain has expanded to process more, to be aware that there are many ways of doing things. More than vocabulary, your perspective and ability to understand others expand. Other ways aren’t better or worse, they’re simply different.
Most of us have dealt with people who can’t understand irony or satire because they’ve never left their immediate worlds. They can function within their comfort zone and either can’t or don’t want to experience whatever’s outside of it. Unlike the mimes we see searching for ways to escape their boxes, these people are very comfortable and satisfied within their own little boxes, thank you. And yes, there are some who are actively reinforcing their box’s walls, to ensure their perceived safety in isolation. The result? They self-limit their exposure to other points of view, to other languages. This limits their ability to understand metaphor. Without knowing a statement’s source or context, it’s difficult to comprehend another’s meaning. [I recall watching a television comedy a while back that another viewer took as a serious crime drama, because they’d never been exposed to the original material being satirized.]
When you don’t understand another – and don’t care to learn – how can you deal with them in that big world outside the limits of your Twitterverse box?