Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Musicians are the First Psychologists

Sorry about the delay in posting. It's midterm week at Southern Seminary, and I've been caught in the undertow. But I've resurfaced, and pledge to do better. In thinking about the role that musicians play in society, it has occurred to me that part of what keeps them in business is that they can, at times, express keen insight into the human condition. Though we may appreciate verbal music for its rhythm, flow of words, and lilt, verbal music offers us an interpretation, a sideways depiction, of the world. I'm not sure that many of us think of this consciously. It's likely that if you stopped the average person on the street listening to some grab bag of Itunes (we're all so pleased with our musical diversity) and asked them what music does for them, they would not say it interprets the human condition. They might say something about how they like the way the music sounds, it fits their mood, or some such thing. It would surprise me if they mentioned anything to do with insightful analysis of the human experience.

But this is much of what naturally draws us to music. I've observed this in my own life. At home, I put on music that fits my mood--but I don't think this is primarily because of sound. I think it's primarily because the words I hear express my feelings and offer something of an emotional mirror in which I can process them. Musicians can sympathize with us, encourage us, discourage us, rebuke us, but primarily, they are just with us. They are at our side, and most of them do not in fact try to bowl us over with dogma or directive. It would seem that this is why many people go to a bar to drink beer. There's usually some fairly melancholy singer partly disillusioned by years of unrealized dreams who sings softly about, well, unrealized dreams and beer. Many see their stories in such songs. In listening, their life is interpreted for them and they are understood. Is this not what psychologists do for us? They listen, sit by our side (often expensively), and then process for us who we are, what we are doing, and why we are doing it. Far from being mere background noise, then, musicians are our first-level interpreters, those who piece together the world for us as we walk the miles out.

(tomorrow--why teaching and music can be an awkward mix)


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