Language and Music

Language and music: uniquely human, to be universally accessible. Proposed New Year’s Resolution: not to lose sight of those truths.

How much seasonal music have you heard recently? Did some of it lift your heart? Did some of it make you search diligently for the off button? Did some of it reflect your cultural background? Did some come from a cultural background with which you do not identify? How about seasonal greetings? Were some directed to you for a particular cultural reason? Did you ever receive a greeting that didn’t actually fit with what you define as your culture?

We know that language forms a key part of our identity, both individually and in the groups with which we identify. In a previous posting I explored the concept and the ways my podcast guests have inevitably had identity emerge in their conversations. We know language is reaching our ears and brains prenatally. Similarly, music taps into our spirits prenatally and from our first days as infants, as we move our bodies to rhythms and, later, clap our hands and then dance ourselves into happy exhaustion. We’ve watched videos or experienced for ourselves how music breaks through dementia and illness, and even in loved ones’ last hours on earth can bring forth evidence of pleasure and recognition.

So why the New Year’s Resolution? Because we lose sight of this essential, intrinsic nature of language and music and begin to put up barriers to access for all, when we move both into the realm of brain learning–of classrooms, courses, and literacy.

Not that I mean such tools are bad! By no means. But they are applied too quickly, and can be soon considered the only “real way” to achieve skill in either language or music. And if language and music are just other kinds of coursework… and if their course “outcomes” are not measurable in ways appropriate to them but very handy for numerical data analysis… and if we need to get down to business which means data analysis to see what will be a “practical life skill”… then we think it progressive to cut funds to the “unproductive” courses such as language and music (and art).

Language is a body phenomenon: spoken, heard, signed, seen. Everybody–pun intended–gets to play. Let’s provide courses that work with the nature of language. Later (later!) the tools that can speed up our complex work: letters, labels for concepts like nouns and verbs. Knowing the labels is not knowing the language. How many people feel they can never learn a language because they now associate it only with literacy and labels?

Music is a body phenomenon. Let’s have courses at all ages where we hum, sing, make up words, sing in languages we don’t understand, create rhythms and intricate patterns, strum/blow/tap on instruments, and move our bodies to the vibrations of sound. Later we can be taught the literacy tools of music notation, the labels of scales and rests.

Let’s celebrate–especially in these challenging times–those who communicate with us through music, through sounds that tap into our individual and cultural identity. Make music yourself. Spend time listening to individuals and groups that use technology to reach us remotely in these days of separation. Let them know you’re listening and care. I cordially invite you to listen to and watch this beautifully conceived and executed holiday concert by my own city’s Lynchburg Symphony Orchestra, with the phenomenal Bells of the Blue Ridge handbell choir. I’m proud to serve on the LSO Advisory Board, and would be gratified if you could support them with a contribution of any size. (Information on how to donate is provided in the recording.) Support your local artists, too.

And while we’re at it, let’s greet each other in the new year in many languages, with open hearts, and with the resolution to open doors to language and music study and participation to everyone.

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One thought on “Language and Music

  1. The music and language connection is so profound. What a beautiful assessment! For me personally, the beauty of Christmas music communicates the special feeling of the holiday season. Other music/songs tend to communicate certain feelings as they remind me of events, tones in life, emotions, and the like. Happy New Year to all snd thank you, Norah, for this great post!

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