I believe music is the only true expression of pure, unadulterated emotion. Words by themselves can be confused, misinterpreted, even twisted, art can be analyzed and interpreted, plays and musicals in theatre can be acted and reacted in millions of different ways, but music is filled with such raw emotion that it cannot be misunderstood or interpreted wrongly.
I recently went caroling with a small madrigals ensemble to visit some of the biggest supporters of my university. One of the men we visited has lost most of his motor functions and nearly all of his ability to communicate, but as we sang “Silent Night,” he was so overcome with emotion that he began crying completely unashamedly. His wife later told us that when he could still speak clearly, he told her that music had always touched him and reminded him of memories of home and family.
Ask anyone and they will tell you that the most memorable moments of their childhood included music, whether it is a birthday, Christmas Eve, a church service, or a sports game. Music has a way of worming itself into our hearts and minds as something we can never forget. Patients at a nursing home can have Alzheimer’s and not be able to remember their own name or where they are, but when someone starts singing an old, familiar hymn, they remember every word to every verse. It’s almost as though music does not ingrain itself into our brains as other information does, we seem to remember it on a deeper, more spiritual level.
Music can be analyzed, just like anything else, through theories, mathematics, equations, and formulas, but just as in the study of human reactions and emotions, not everything can be explained through numbers and proofs. You could say a piece “feels” sad or angry because it is in a minor key, or because of the chord structure, but in all honesty, it really doesn’t matter what goes into the piece physically, it is the emotion of the composer behind the work that matters. Whatever the composer feels, the listener or performer will feel. There is nothing more or less than this, just emotion. How else can you explain an audience crying at a beautiful oboe concerto (such as the second movement of Marcello’s oboe concerto), or physically becoming tense when there is a huge brass fanfare in a minor key (such as the “Mars” movement in Holst’s “The Planets”)? It’s pure emotion expressed the only way it truly can be: through music.