The Music of Life

When I attended college, I studied music, and they required that I take several years of fundamentals or Western Classical Music Theory. The essential thing was this. Music is a result of organized sound, and sound is a result of vibrations. Music theory itself is the study of how those vibrations make Harmony; how pleasing sounds fit together with harsh and dissonant sounds to create music.

The rules can get complicated. We started by working through the rules that Bach used. Then after months, actually years, we graduated to analyzing the works of the great masters, and what I found in those surprised me. Those great masters broke the rules. We were told never to do a particular kind of musical progression because it weakened the music, but Debussy used them often, and when he did, it made the music translucent and beautiful.

That made no sense.

By the time Stravinsky wrote, the extended dissonance that the theory professors had frowned upon was suddenly how modern music was supposed to sound.

Sometime later, I grew interested in African music, not part of the Western Classical genre. And the way they handled their harmonies violated a whole slew of those rules I spent so long studying. All those broken rules of the theory I’d studied set me to wondering. Why do we have rules of music if they can be broken and still create good music? Could it be that the rules are immaterial as long as there is consistency?

Have you ever noticed that every culture, every civilization, has found a way to make music? Before you point out that the hearing impaired culture doesn’t, let me observe that those of that culture can, and do, take note of vibrations, if not with their ears with their entire bodies.

But now, let’s look at something else. The current top theory of what makes up the Universe is String Theory. The name comes from the fundamental particle, the smallest, most essential piece — a one-dimensional string. And guess what. The strings vibrate, and the vibrations are extremely important because these infinitesimal particles with their quivering make up everything else, which makes everything vibrate. The vacillations create all kinds of things, including…sound. That’s right music; the Universe sings.

I was right. There is consistency in music; everything makes it. That’s why every culture takes part in it. Music is universal, literally. Everything does it. (I don’t usually use the word literally, because people regularly use it the wrong way. in this context, it is correct.)

Yes, everything makes music, and because of that, every culture creates music. It’s a primal urge, so innate that we don’t even notice we do it. How many times have you, or someone close to you, started humming, or whistling, perhaps even singing for no reason at all? Or, how about the times that you had some ludicrous tune bouncing around in your head, and nothing you did could stop it? Music surrounds us.

When I taught music, I gave my general music class an assignment to write down several natural rhythms. These patterns occurred naturally, things like water dropping from the roof onto an air conditioner, or a tree branch scratching the side of the house at odd intervals in a row, or how about the rhythm of a bird’s song. The thing that all of these had in common was they had no human causes; they happened on their own.

There is music everywhere — vibrations of the one-dimensional strings, rumbling thunder, the soft rhythm of a baby snorting while asleep to beautiful strains of a melody in your mind yet to be hummed. The pervasiveness of music is fundamental to my understanding of the Universe.

Music composes the world around us, and the music is so complicated that even our most sensitive machines can’t detect it all. Except we hear it with that innermost part of ourselves as all of nature does. And like nature, we are children of music.

Enjoy the songs of life.


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