A Universal Language

Lauren - Ames, Iowa
Entered on January 6, 2009
Age Group: Under 18
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I believe that music is a universal form of communication.

At the spring band concert, we performed “Ghost Train,” a work that depicts an old abandoned train coming to life again. The song starts out slow and quiet: trumpets with Harmon mutes bend pitches, creating an eerie whistle far away in the mist. A snare drum picks up speed as the train creaks to ‘life,’ doubling in speed and intensity every few seconds. All at once, all sounds falls into a suspended state as flutes take over with a rhythmic, but relaxed, melody. The train is now coasting gently through the landscape. Occasionally, flutes mimic the sound of a nearby train whistle, this time a less tense whistle than previously heard from the trumpets. Trumpets and percussionists enter chaotically as the train comes to an abrupt screeching halt. For a split second, there is complete silence in the dark auditorium. The audience is sitting in awe of what we had just created.


A round, high-pitched child’s voice cut through the silence. Every member of the band, including our director, burst out laughing, smiling as wide as the Grand Canyon. A young boy had understood the tale the band had just finished telling. We expressed our story to the audience without any words whatsoever. The boy confirmed this to the band – we were very good storytellers.

The boy had probably heard hundreds of stories about trains, but none connected with him as much as this one, told through music – the one that prompted the now famous “YAY!!” The story without words was able to form a very concrete picture in his head, and obviously it was a cool picture. Music had served as a medium for communication.

Music is the universal language. Anyone and everyone, from little children to the elderly, understand it. Language barriers do not keep the stories of music in the countries they were produced in. The sounds of a train are universal. The sounds of life are the same throughout the globe. Every piece of music tells a story, and the musicians take it upon their shoulders to be the storytellers.

There is a feeling that comes with making great music. Any great musician will tell you that they have had the ‘Goosebumps experience’ while playing a piece. It’s similar feeling as reading a particularly striking passage from a book, or a breathtaking scene from a movie. Every time I picked up the trumpet for one of those whistles, I got those Goosebumps. It was just that cool. Music from the very ensemble I was playing in was talking to me. It was telling me a story about an old train.