Gramophone guest blog

Music – the soundtrack to our lives

Tasmin LittleMon 24th November 2014

Life, like music, isn't just about the beginning and the end, but the journey in between

The other day, I was trying to help my 12-year-old with his geometry homework. There is nothing very startling about that statement, although those who know me will smile at my triumph of optimism over reality, considering the fact that my mathematical prowess leaves quite a bit to be desired. I digress.

He had found a quicker way to calculate the answer to the question and wanted to know why he had to go all the way through the long-winded process. This developed into a somewhat philosophical discussion, as we explored the idea that some aspects of life are all about the process used to get somewhere, as opposed to a straightforward, Tardis-like arrival at a destination. We talked about education being vital preparation in giving us tools and experience for life; and I explained that the act of thinking something through actually develops our brains and often our emotions, therefore evolving each of us, bit by bit, into the unique person we are.

Our exchange got me posing once more my question about why we listen to music – in fact, I started to form an analogy between music and life itself. If the purpose of life were simply to arrive at one’s destination as quickly and efficiently as possible, there would be little point in living it. It would consist of a birth followed by a death. In the same way, were we simply to listen to the opening and closing chords of a piece, we would be aware of the departure and arrival points but we certainly would not feel we had experienced or understood anything about the content of the composition. So, it follows that there is clearly something about the journey aspect of music that we find deeply fulfilling. 

In the same way, when we read a book or watch a film, we are entering into a journey – as well as a form of (sometimes enjoyable) escapism. These art forms help us to understand ourselves by enabling us to identify with, or recognize, people in our own lives. Films, plays and books can also help us to understand and release emotions by describing or illuminating situations that resonate with our hopes and fears.

So, if music is wordless communication, it performs the same role as a book or a play but, instead of words, melody, harmony, rhythm and form are employed to portray emotions and ideas. These characteristics of music are so deeply rooted in our psyche that it seems to me that music is a form of 'aural body language', where we sense a mood, rather than see its physical embodiment. 

Throughout the world, music is used in everyday life by companies/bars/shops/restaurants in order to engender a specific mood in the people who are listening. It is used particularly powerfully in film, where the music is carefully composed to reflect and enhance the action on screen. Many of us will, at some point in our lives, have used music as a means to alter our mood – for instance, to give us energy in the morning, to lift ourselves up or calm ourselves down. 

Every November on Remembrance Day, we honour the brave soldiers who died in the line of duty during the First World War and we reflect upon their sacrifice during a two-minute silence. For me, feeling the emotion that this two-minute reflection engenders, the only possible way to break this silence is by hearing one of the most poignant pieces of music that exists: The Last Post

When this music begins, we all know without needing to utter a word that we are experiencing the same emotion, sadness and respect. The music gathers each of us together to share in our grief and honour our fallen heroes.

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