Elvis Costello said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Discuss.
Various art forms exist in our world, as means of expressing ourselves, from painting and drawing, to acting and dancing, to music and writing. But can we combine any of these to explain the others. Can you dramatise a painting? Can you dance about architecture? Can you write about music? We combine the latter two in the form of songs, setting our words to music. Songs are a different type of expression to prose writing however; they use a more poetic language, giving us a freedom of expression, driven by imagery rather than plot much of the time.
But why did we feel the need to set our words to music? Why not just write poetry? Music has existed for hundreds of years (with and without lyrics!), so it clearly appeals to the human race. Who among us doesn’t listen to music in some way every single day? What is it about music that we enjoy so much? And how do I go about trying to explain this?
When asked to describe a piece of music we can use various approaches; we can use the technical vocabulary of music, we can try to describe the style and mood of the piece, we can talk about the images and emotions it conjures up for us. But no amount of words will have the same effect on someone as if they were to listen to the same music themselves. Like all art forms, music is subjective and we all react differently to it. What one person loves, another may hate. To read about a piece, rather than hear it, we are experiencing it second hand, coloured by someone else’e opinions of it. Only by listening yourself can you really understand what the music is.
Music can affect us profoundly. Many people will claim that a certain band or piece of music changed, or even saved, their life. I’m reminded of another quote, from Victor Hugo, which translates as “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words, nor remain silent”. Music is an outpouring of emotion that we can’t always express in words. As an aspiring writer, words are usually what I turn to first when seeking to express something. Others turn to other mediums, such as art or dance – yet even people who aren’t musical, probably listen to music. The melodies and songs created by others can speak to us, and we can discover that someone else has managed to express what we could not. I even struggled to choose an image for this post, as nothing visual seems to entirely encapsulate what music is and what it does.
Although I am musical, having played piano for years, I’ve never been one for writing music or lyrics; prose is my medium of choice. But I’ve often found inspiration in songs, as they’ve prompted new ideas or emotional responses. And of course, I still enjoying playing the compositions of others. But the music I listen to helps me every day. There are songs out there to suit my every mood, and which express emotions in a more poetic manner than I can myself. Music flows in and out of you, surges up and bubbles over, stirs your body and mind. There is a heart and soul to music that is almost inexplicable. It lives and breathes and pulses with energy, it traverses languages and continents. But, even though I can write and write about this topic, if you’ve never had this same experience or connection to music, then I’m not sure you will fully understand what it is I mean.
So, there it is. I’ve tried writing about music. I think I’ve managed to express some of my thoughts about it. But there’s so much more to it that I don’t know how to explain. Music elicits a hugely emotional response in me, which has to be experienced first hand. Words may be my means of expression, and serve me well most of the time; but sometimes, though I can neither understand nor explain it, music does something much greater.
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