The Sound of Music

I think I’ve mentioned on this site before that I really do not enjoy doing things that I am not good at it. This is, in part, because some things come very easily to me, and I am unaccustomed to having to work for something, and it’s also because, well, it’s just in my nature. I don’t like doing things I’m not good at, and I have accepted that this is the way I am. If I am going to do something, I want to do it not just competently, but well.

My father is, among many other things, a musician. He plays the alto sax, and was pretty active in the jazz community here at one point (in addition to playing jazz literally all over the world in his younger days). He doesn’t play as much these days; I don’t think I’ve seen him whip out the sax in a number of years. It’s one of the things I remember from my childhood, though, is my father practicing the sax. Sometimes, he used to play the theme from The Pink Panther for me before I went to bed.

It’s not too surprising that my father thought I might share his interest in and aptitude for music, so when I was a kid, he tried me on a number of musical instruments. And I mean a number. I tried the basics like recorder and piano (neither of which I am knocking, incidentally, they are just common introductory instruments) and some more obscure instruments like the trumpet, the harp, and the bass. And, you know, I’ve heard it said that the harp is such a naturally beautiful instrument that it’s impossible for ugly sounds to come out of it.

I am living, breathing proof that this is not the case. I have absolutely no aptitude for music. I don’t have the sensitivity to notes and tones; sometimes I can tell when music is off, but not always, and usually only when it’s really off. I can’t hold or keep a beat or a rhythm, I never could figure out how to read sheet music. I literally cannot tell the difference between a duple and a triple beat. People cribbed off me in my music appreciation class by writing down the exact opposite to whatever I answered on tests.

But I like music. In a way. I should say, I listen to a lot of things and I like some of them, but, at the same time, I am a little bit indifferent to music. I’m terrible at remembering songs and naming composers/artists. I like driving fast and listening to loud music sometimes, I like the space it brings me to, but I’m not obsessed with music. I don’t know very much music history, and one failed to identify a very famous song by The Beatles (sorry, Cara!) in a group setting, something which people have mocked me for ever since.

Sometimes music speaks to me, in a way I can’t really articulate. I feel like it’s inside my spine, skittering up and down like a little arachnid. It’s in my gut, my heart, my lungs. For a few minutes, I actually tune in to the music and I can feel my mind spinning off into another place. I actually get, for a moment, why people love playing and listening to music, I understand it on a visceral level, because I am experiencing it. That moment that concert musicians get in the orchestra pit, that rock starts get when they run on stage, that fans get when they put their favourite album on the turntable.

But I can also tune music out when I’m not that into it, something which most people I know can’t seem to do. When music they don’t like is playing, it’s boring into their heads and they can’t focus until it stops. Likewise, I can recognize when music sounds off to me, but I can’t say why, and I can also ignore it. I won’t be reduced to a cringing heap, in other words, when someone fails to hit the right note.

The dichotomy I experience around music sometimes confuses me. I don’t understand how I can feel something totally intense and consuming at one moment, and be literally indifferent the next. I guess I’m an extreme kind of person, in some senses; I do have the ability to think in multiple streams at once, to switch off intense emotions and go into another place entirely, to carry on conversations at multiple levels. Even to experience this dichotomy in emotion about a person. I can be infuriated with someone, but still talk about that person perfectly reasonably and politely; I can have a vicious argument with someone and ask ou 10 minutes later if they’ve read this article in The Guardian I just found that I think ou might like.

This seesawing, the radical imbalance from one extreme to the next, I think is just part of how my brain works. I used to think that everyone operated in this way, thinking and acting on multiple levels at once, simultaneously intensely loving something and not caring about it at all, but I’ve since learned that it’s actually a bit unusual, which leads me to wonder what else about my brain and the way I think is unusual.

I want to be able to play a musical instrument. I like the very idea of it. But I wonder if the multiple tracks my mind runs on are part of what’s stopping me. I can’t bring myself to focus, hard, on a specific action or moment, for more than a few seconds. I can’t be intent on something. I must be broad and sweeping, I must scuttle around things, I must not look anything or anyone in the eye. And one thing I note when I see musicians playing is that they are intent. Focused. The music is the only thing that exists, and it’s that way for hours, not seconds or minutes. As soon as that focus breaks, some sort of magic goes out of the moment.

Apparently, my brain doesn’t work in a way which allows me to experience that magic.

One Reply to “The Sound of Music”

  1. This is a really great post. I am one of Those Music People (and I play/ed harp! So the fact that you have tried it is majorly cool to me, even if the circumstances were less than auspicious), so it’s really interesting to hear a perspective that’s…rather different than my own. Hooray for plurality!

    And your paragraph about the dichotomy in being able to both feel very strongly about something and detach from it, that’s something I’ve felt before–although mostly not about music. SO I found that very interesting.

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