A Return to In-Keyness


waterfall in Peru...


What does it mean? What is the significance of the birds singing in key with human music, with people unwittingly responding the same way, talking in the key of the music in the background, or of the music ringing in their ears after a performance? It’s not hard for me to imagine the vibrations left by the instruments still wafting in the air. Is it just a natural phenomenon, a matter of course, something to be taken for granted, or is there some significance to it? Is there perhaps something right in front of our eyes, or our ears, or our entire beings, that we are missing by ignoring it? We certainly ignore a lot of things that we take for granted. Heaven knows we’re too busy to waste time reflecting on or paying attention to natural phenomena when we have work to do, dinner to cook, phone calls to make and receive, social networks to attend. To try to slow down your day long enough to listen, or to look, fully with the senses you were born with, is the equivalent of an altered state. Why is this? It seems to me we shouldn’t have to be unusual, deranged or distracted to pay attention.

                When I began to think about everything or everyone being in key, naturally, without having to do anything except be alive and present, it was tempting to make analogies to universal language, harmony (which connotes peace), and all those symbols that give hope to a chaotic existence. I wondered about the mechanics of it: if baby birds are born begging in key, what about human babies? If there is music at birth, is the child’s first cry in key with it?

The flip side suggests that where there is discord, perhaps we are then out of tune. In any range of the spectrum, from a simple argument to acts of aggression, will we still automatically be in key because we have no control over it, or in the alternative, will the friction render us out of key?

The next conclusion is that there must be some way to measure, on a cellular level, the effect music has on our well-being. If you’re skeptical about musical vibrations on a minute level, listen to a recording of the sounds made by yeast.  If exposure to noise rearranges our molecules enough to cause us harm, what of the opposite effect? There are plenty of proponents of music therapy. Can this be measured? Are there better ways to treat more illnesses with music than we know? Is the act of playing music or singing restorative? Music used to be a much bigger part of our lives than it is now, people participated more often than being passive recipients of music. On the bright side, due to enhanced methods of communication, we are now being exposed to other musics more often than those we consider our own, as “world music” becomes popular. Is there any way that sharing music can become a metaphor for peaceful coexistence?

I will return to this subject from time to time because it fascinates me, but I also tend to veer off in divergent directions. I cannot stay up all night so I will leave you with this thought: whether you realize it or not, music is all around us and within us, even in silence, as John Cage was so apt to point out.

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