My third GP essay.
Written: 6th March 2009
“Let us all stand up for the national anthem”. The numerous people, creating a large crowd in the huge football stadium, stand up. The players of both the teams line up in the centre of the field in a rigid stance. The anthem begins. The camera focuses on all the team members of the country whose anthem is being played, tears streaming down the cheeks of a few players in great love, respect and patriotism for their beloved country. The anthem surely made them emotional and triggered the love for their nation. But wait…nobody is singing the national anthem, it is only an instrumental. If music without words is meaningless, then how come those players were so touched by it? How did they receive the message and the sensation of patriotism through only the sounds coming from a number of instruments? A better question; how did they even RECOGNIZE that it is their country’s national anthem and not their opposing team’s? The answer to all these questions is that music without words is not meaningless, and it would be quite a sweeping statement to say so. Yes, music can be meaningless without words if it created that way, just a mixture of random notes and intervals without any harmony, but why would anyone waste their time creating something like that? Even if words are added to such a piece of music, it would not be effective.
Music can also be meaningless with words (if you are a musician, please don’t try recreating the following example); imagine a “gangsta’ rap” song, with the rapper rapping over a soft and mellow 3 by 4 piano ballad. The lyrics alone will have meaning, and the music alone will have its meaning too, but mixing them together will cause a terrible confusion and resulting in the listener to think “Does the artist want me to listen to a story of one of his amazing gang fights and feel the intensity of the situation, or he wants me to stand up and perform a slow couple dance with my beau?”. Music is a lot like chemistry; you create a wrong mixture and it will either result in a disastrous solution or will neutralize the effect. So saying that words give meaning to music is quite absurd, but yes it is to be admitted that words sometimes do enhance the meaning of music and support it, excluding the above mentioned example though…
Music itself is believed to be another language. It is spoken through instruments and voice by using notes, written and read on a staff paper using musical notation, with intervals, rests, time signatures, tempo, scales and chords as its grammar, and its accents as…well…accents. When voices and instruments change the pitch of the notes in a harmonious and melodic fashion, they create their own “words”, with the feeling and message the musician wants to convey to the listener. The length of these musical words and words of any language, lets say English, are often not the same; the word “anger” takes less than a second to speak, almost a second to write and a millisecond to understand, but when translated this word in music, it can take several pages of staff paper and minutes of playing time. Music contains its own meaning. It does not depend on the existence of words but sadly, not all understand this language. Words are needed to support the music and convey the message faster and more effectively to the listener. Sometimes, even the musician himself does not master this language well enough to understand it, and thus he has to create a piece of music known as a “song” which he and the listener comprehend to. It is like watching a foreign movie with English dubbing so it can be easily be understood. The dubbing will never be the same as the real dialogues and the feelings which reside in the original won’t be present in the dubbed version. Music is the foreign language here, and words are the dubbing. Most of music enthusiasts are so used to listening to the “dubbed” version of music that they begin to find the music in its pure sense as peculiar and strange. The dubbed version of the movie in the foreign language is so popular that the producer has now begun to create movies in English, but to make sure that the feeling of originality is not lost he has decided to use the same foreign actors who trying their best to speak a language they are not supposed to speak, only because the audience wants it. Luckily there are artists which have preserved music in its original form. Beethovan and Bach are in the list, but lets take a look at current artists.
Yanni; A self taught pianist and music composer from Greece. His music consists of pure instruments, sometimes voices, but no words, and yet the meaning of the music is conveyed to the listener. As an example, one of his songs, Reflections of Passion, triggers the emotion of love and passion so quickly, and the rhythm of the song makes one dance with his/her partner, alone if they are single. Another one known as Nostalgia will take one down the memory lane and awaken nostalgic feelings to a place, a person or an object; a song named perfectly with respect to its feeling. There are several other melodies which comprise of no words but still they inject their contained feeling into the listener. Even though this particular professional musician was mentioned here to support the statement that there are musicians who create songs without words and they are still understood and appreciated, one does not always have to be a pure musician to create music with meaning and without words and understand such form of music.
On a hot summer day when the children are playing in their yard and hear an alluring music fading in. They stop and listen. In a few seconds they run inside, empty their piggy banks, and run back outside to the “ice-cream man” who is humming the music coming from the speakers of his ice-cream wagon as he presents the children with their treats. It was the distinguishable, upbeat and exciting music from which the children realized that the ice-cream wagon is approaching. In the same way, when a cell phone rings, it is instantly realized that someone is calling and the phone needs to be answered. How unusual it would be if all cell phones do not play a specific tone as the ring but instead a voice from its speaker yelling, “I am your phone! Someone is calling! Attend the call!” Recognized cell phone models and service providers have their own signature ring tones, and one can easily figure out which brand and which cell phone connection an individual is using when his/her cell phone rings. More pieces of music that all computer users are familiar with is the welcoming melody one hears when the renowned operating system Windows XP is booted, the short and annoying jingle when there is an error message on the screen, and the tune that is played when it is turned off. Words are completely absent and even unnecessary for this purpose. That is the most fascinating thing about music; it is not limited to any specific language, like stated before that music itself is a language everyone understands….partially…
Therefore, the conclusion is that music is not meaningless without words. Yes, words support music, and words make the understanding of the message conveyed more effective, but music will not be left incomplete if words are missing from it. In fact, words without music won’t have much effect. Do not confuse words with voices, as there is a difference between voices changing their pitches in rhythm and voices changing their pitches in rhythm and carrying words from a language with them. Neither would be meaningless with or without any of them. If music was meaningless without words, cell phones ringtones, movie intros and alarm or reminder tones would have never been understood, and if words were meaningless without music then you will definitely need some singing skills to understand this essay.