The Mystery of Music

Who was the first person to realize that a sound could become a note? Who put notes together and sang for their baby or lover? Why does music convey feeling more effectively than words ever can? If you listen to the music of a country, you can feel what that country is like, from the complex music of India to the simple chants of Native Americans to the Caribbean mix of Africa, Spain and Native Central Americans. Why does music carry a personality that is at once both definite and yet undefinable.

Why do some people have perfect pitch? That is, they can name a note when it is played on a piano, and they can tell when that note is out of tune on that same piano. The quality of a person’s voice is determined by genetics and environment, but can be nurtured to produce beautiful sounds?

Why can some people play a harmonic on a violin that is perfectly in tune, while another cannot even hear it? How do trumpet players change notes just by moving their lips a fraction of an inch?

How do composers lead with their bodies responding to every note and rest, cuing players in at the right time, yet focused on what should happen at that moment in the score?

It was Pythagorus that discovered the relationship of ratios between notes and the vibrations of strings, and the parabola focus of directed sound waves. Fascination with music has existed perhaps as long as music itself. Teenagers are best known for using music to define their generation, but everyone enjoys a good concert and is unaware of the passage of time.

I taught Early Childhood Special Ed for sixteen years, and I always celebrated Earth Day. Most of my students, aged three to six, had language deficits, from moderate to severe. One year, I gave the students blue and green paint, and played “La Mer” by Debussy. They painted waves.

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