Are you a music lover? I remember when a friend of mine said, "you sure love music going to all of these concerts" and I asked her, "don't you?" Her response was, "I don't really listen to music." It donned on me that music is much like any other art form. Some people love comic books.. others love going to the museum... and some people love music. If you are music lover, I think it is good take a step back and ask what is the purpose of music? What makes it meaningful and why do we listen to it? Music may not be a necessity to some people, but in this day and age, it sure is hard to avoid! So what is the purpose of listening to music? As I've chosen to be a composer that creates music on a regular basis, here are my observations.
Setting the Mood & Enhancing Activities
We all had a time where you listen to music to hype yourself up to work out, clean the house or for a long car ride. Music helps to wake you up or to slow you down. As a function, we may consciously or unconsciously turn music on while we focus on an activity. Some of my good film writer friends listen to soundtracks while they write scripts. They tell me that it helps set the mood and expand their imagination. I can't argue with that!
Also, my percussion professor once lectured us on the history of percussion. He said that the drums were primarily used in the past for dance, song and worship (there is another important function that they served in wartime which I will elaborate later on). Music can help to put you in a trance so that you forget your worries and accomplish any task at hand. Or, if you want to relax, you may want to put on some light jazz in the house, dim the lights and drink some wine. Whatever it is, music is that invisible drug that can enhance your experience throughout the day.
Therapeutic & Religious Outlet
Speaking of drugs, music is known to be a form of therapy. There's even a college degree based around it. However, on a broader scope, listening to music can be used as an outlet. This also ties in to worship if you are a church goer or religious. There are certain chords and certain timbres of instruments that help soothe the spirit. Maybe it's the frequency of these notes. Maybe it's the message in the song. In the end, the combination of lyrics (if it's a song), melody, chord progression, rhythm and instrumentation can help relieve anyone's troubles or elevate them to another dimension. I distinctly remember a time, when I was driving home after a long day of work with my mind in a dark place. Suddenly, the song "Room at the Top" by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers started to play. The song started minimal with him singing, "I've got a room a the top of the world tonight...." Then the song progressed and grew louder. As the guitar and drums came in, all of the sudden I started to sit up and smile. The emotional energy was so compelling that I teared up. I share this now because maybe you can relate in some way to my experience. Music can be a powerful tool to help release pent-up rage or help you through an emotional period.
Mental Puzzle & Analysis
Like many art forms, there is a cryptic aspect to music in which some people spend their time to decipher. Whether that's breaking down a Brahms Symphony or lyrics from Jay-Z, we love to figure out what the artist is trying to say or do. So the act of listening, comprehending and analyzing music is a mental form of exercise. You may even treat it like a crossword puzzle. This is especially true if you are a musician. As a college music student, I couldn't help but analyze everything I listened in the perspective of a performer. I would listen to the drumming of Elvin Jones and ask myself, "what the hell is he doing?" Sometimes, that can perhaps kill the joy of the simple act of enjoying a piece by being in that analyzing role all of the time. But, I think we all have been there at some point in time.
Storytelling & Communication
Another way to listen is to understand it as a form of communication and on a higher level, as a form of storytelling. Whether that is literally in a Willie Nelson song or more abstract like a film soundtrack, we can interpret music as communicating a message. In the past, before modern warfare, the musical instruments were used to keep the army marching in unison and to rally their morale. They were also used to signal the army to attack, flank left or retreat. Nowadays, music is used to help elevate a commercial on TV, a movie trailer, a film... you name it. Music is so important in a visual medium and as a composer, that excites me because of the various opportunities to be a part of the storytelling. I really enjoy scoring a film that was initially stripped of any music. It's like having a blank canvas for me to paint an invisible landscape with the scene. Driving the story forward, hinting clues to the audience, and enhancing the aesthetics are some principles that I work to add value to my creative partners. Think of your favorite movies? You probably remember some of the music in it and if the composer is lucky enough, you may even know their names because of how memorablel the music was. Some of my favorite soundtracks include Gladiator, The Imitation Game, Jurassic Park, Hunger Games and Scream.
Community Building & Beyond
Have you been to a karaoke event where everyone joins in and sings the song? ("Don't Stop Believing" ring a bell?)
Well, listening to music can form a bond between people of all walks of life. When I moved from New York to Utah, I met my friends through talking about music. The song's message can bring a sense of belonging and a sense of humanity in the world. My last thought about listening to music is, keep exploring! Some of you haven't gotten to a point where you have analyzed a song. I encourage you that the more you explore music as an art form, the more it will enrich your life. I see music as equally as important to other art forms such as literature and dance. If you're bold enough to explore this frontier, then read the books "What To Listen for in Music" Aaron Copland or "How Music Works" by David Byrne.