Music and the Imagination

 

Music can spark our imagination. My sixth grade music teacher once came in with a recording of some symphonic Rachmaninoff and instructed us to take out our notebooks or looseleaf paper and write whatever came into our heads as we listened. I wasn’t sure what to expect since she didn’t tell us in advance what we were about to hear, but I remember feeling shocked as the sound crashed into me and then I began to write, and words flowed from my pen onto the paper as the music swept me away.

Music can also create emotion in the listener. We all can think of the power of a favorite song or classical recording. Have you ever been watching a television show or movie when you realized the only sense of suspense or excitement was coming, not from the plot or the scene or the actors, but from the music? The composer attempts to use this instant link to our brains to convey something to us, often successfully, even when the rest of the input does not support that idea.

As a musician, there are certain pieces or parts that I find incredibly satisfying. I am a decent instrumentalist but a very good singer, and sometimes I am transported when I feel the music flowing through me. I am connecting in a very deep way to the central power of the universe, the Creator God, and his entangled universe in which we are all connected in some quantum way. I breathe better, I sing more true, I shape the words in a way that is different. The sound waves pour out of my body and slam into the ears of my listeners, and they are changed by my music.

Is it my imagination, or does music really have this power?

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  1. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    It does and is a great mystery to me.  Why does it?  

    • #1
  2. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    I think in part because there really is an interconnectedness in the universe.

    Music allows us to access it in a deep primal way.

    I read Oliver Sacks’ book Musicophilia some years ago.  He discusses how different neurological conditions affect people’s abilities to appreciate or remember music. It can be truly remarkable. 

    • #2
  3. Franco Member
    Franco
    @Franco

    Music is a language based on vibration. There is a whole dimension we don’t actively realize on the vibrational level. Emotions are accessed through this portal, and when words are combined in the right way it becomes more powerful.

    As to film and tv, I find it has become cliche and heavy handed, and I’m often irritated by the musical cues, but it can be done well, it just isn’t as much.

    I could go on and get technical but I won’t.😉

    • #3
  4. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Franco (View Comment):
    I’m often irritated by the musical cues

    Me too, very much so.

    But sometimes, they amuse me. I find the cheekiness of Die Hard II I think it is opening with “Hot Time, Summer in the City” and showing visual scenes of people walking around with jackets and windbreakers zipped up and clutched to their chests from the unseasonably chilly wind quite funny, for example.

    I imagine it was less funny to the film crew who must have despaired of the weather those days of filming.

    • #4
  5. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Franco (View Comment):
    There is a whole dimension we don’t actively realize on the vibrational level.

    The different tonal vibrations of the different instruments are always so exciting to me. The way a French horn sounds is so haunting and thrilling. The crispness of a trumpet’s brass. The warmth of the clarinet. 

    There is something so perfect when a composer just nails it with a correct vibrational tone coming through at exactly the right moment. 

    • #5
  6. Songwriter Inactive
    Songwriter
    @user_19450

    Once, when our two sons were quite young (6 & 4-ish), the family was watching TV when they both hopped up from the floor and jumped in the laps of my wife and me. When asked why, they both said, “Something scary is about to happen.” “How do you know that,” we asked them. “The music,” they said.

    • #6
  7. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    I am a person that can’t tolerate music. I know it is a curse. It’s not all music but is any music that is played beyond almost a whisper. I get very   Claustrophobic. I am also dyslexic  and I think my brain jumbles up the notes and the music becomes  disorienting . Wish I was gifted like you all.

    • #7
  8. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    The only classic music I was exposed to as a kid was the Moonlight Sonata. I have no idea why my parents had purchased that album, but to this day, whenever I hear it, I close my eyes and soak it in.

    What instrument do you play, Mama Toad? And I didn’t realize you’re a singer, too! I envy all that talent.  ;-)

    • #8
  9. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad: Is it my imagination, or does music really have this power?

    Yes!

    Although I’ve been a hard rocker for eons, my favorite album set is John Eliot Gardiner’s Beethoven Symphonies with the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique (1994):

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    In these performances, the orchestra uses period instruments and the original tempos, which tend to be faster than most orchestras play nowadays.  The result is to travel back in time to hear the music the way it sounded back then.  The ninth symphony in this set is to die for, and IMHO, the finest piece of music ever written.

    For Beethoven’s piano sonatas, I recommend the versions by Claude Frank.

     

     

     

     

    • #9
  10. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    And what about lyrics?  Short answer: it depends.  In some of pop music (to include “rock”), I find lyrics sufficiently banal as to interfere with the imagination.  Now some lyrics may be clever, some less so, but their distinguishing feature is that they take you where the songwriter wants you to go. 

    To me, that’s somewhat antithetical to “imagination.”  Of course, a skilled lyricist can conjure up images of “dancing cheek to cheek,” or of going through life doing things “my way,” or of the glories of meeting that girl named “Maria.”  But the painting is less abstract, whereas, with instrumental music, the image is less formed, lending itself more to open interpretation.  

    There is some excellent, even great, music with lyrics–in fact, it’s most of what many of us listen to.  But I do see a distinct difference from the “imagination” perspective between great instrumental works and great popular music.

    • #10
  11. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad: Is it my imagination, or does music really have this power?

    It’s not your imagination alone, and that is for certain. I think maybe we should all listen to more Mozart:


    This conversation is an entry in our Group Writing Series under June’s theme of Now That’s Imagination! We still have five openings on the schedule from June 22nd to June 26th, inclusive. If you have something to say about imagination or something imaginative to say about anything, why not sign up and share it with us? Have a theory that it is not really lizard men, but unicorns who control the world? It could be fun for us to hear something new.

    But, if writing about imagination doesn’t, uh, capture your imagination, we can understand that. We have new opportunities to write in the month of July when the theme is Understanding. Come join us. If you aren’t starting new conversations, you’re missing at least one-third of the Ricochet experience. Capisce?

    • #11
  12. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    Music certainly does do all you say it does, Mama Toad. I grew up on cartoons that used classical music, and it wasn’t until I was older that I realized that Bugs Bunny had introduced me to Franz Liszt and Mozart. And as @songwriter said above, in movies it lets us know that “something scary is about to happen.” Anyone who has seen Jaws will agree.

    William Congreve had it right when he wrote that “music has charms to soothe the savage breast.”  It’s often misquoted as “savage beast,” likely because it’s also true that animals respond to music. Whenever I couldn’t find my little Pomeranian, I’d play the piano. Within a few measures of Mozart, he’d come running out from under the bed or wherever he’d been hiding and lie down next to the piano bench. My big dog loves music too. She sits under the piano and makes little noises until I go over and play for her. (Sometimes I wonder if she’s the one who’s doing the training around here)

     

    • #12
  13. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    What instrument do you play, Mama Toad? And I didn’t realize you’re a singer, too! I envy all that talent. ;-)

    I have played the piano since I was a little girl. I play a little guitar (campfire singing) and last year I took up the clarinet. I also play percussion in our homeschool orchestra. I sing in the choir (alto and soprano — I have a wide range now ’cause we needed an alto) and in community theater occasionally.

    I lead prayer services at the church from time to time, usually managing to work some Latin chant in.

    Here’s a video of me (piano) and my son (trumpet) in a performance in 2017:

    Here’s a video of a community theater play I was in (I was the evil Aunt Spiker in James and the Giant Peach; I come in at about 12:53 on a scooter, and start singing soon after):

    I don’t have any video of me singing church music, but that’s when I really feel it. When I’m singing things like Gloria! Laudamus te! Adoramus te!

    • #13
  14. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    . . . it wasn’t until I was older that I realized that Bugs Bunny had introduced me to Franz Liszt and Mozart.

    “The Rabbit of Seville” and “What’s Opera Doc” are my two favorite Bugs Bunny cartoons, in that order.  I ended up buying the videos on iTunes.

    • #14
  15. thelonious Member
    thelonious
    @thelonious

    Stad (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    . . . it wasn’t until I was older that I realized that Bugs Bunny had introduced me to Franz Liszt and Mozart.

    “The Rabbit of Seville” and “What’s Opera Doc” are my two favorite Bugs Bunny cartoons, in that order. I ended up buying the videos on iTunes.

    “Kill The Wabbit!  Kill the Wabbit!”  Wagner never sounded better.

    • #15
  16. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    thelonious (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    . . . it wasn’t until I was older that I realized that Bugs Bunny had introduced me to Franz Liszt and Mozart.

    “The Rabbit of Seville” and “What’s Opera Doc” are my two favorite Bugs Bunny cartoons, in that order. I ended up buying the videos on iTunes.

    “Kill The Wabbit! Kill the Wabbit!” Wagner never sounded better.

    And let’s not forget Fantasia!

    • #16
  17. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    thelonious (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    . . . it wasn’t until I was older that I realized that Bugs Bunny had introduced me to Franz Liszt and Mozart.

    “The Rabbit of Seville” and “What’s Opera Doc” are my two favorite Bugs Bunny cartoons, in that order. I ended up buying the videos on iTunes.

    “Kill The Wabbit! Kill the Wabbit!” Wagner never sounded better.

    Don’t forget the magic helmet!

    • #17
  18. DrewInWisconsin Member
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    I was watching Star Wars last night with the kids (maybe my 47th time) and we were having a discussion about whether we’d enjoy the movie as much if it weren’t for John Williams’ contributions.

    What would it be like if we could mute the incidental music but not the dialogue and other sound effects? Does the movie work as well?

    It definitely helps that Williams’ score feels timeless. I can think of a number of other movies from that time period that now feel dated because they relied on 70s/80s synthesizer-based soundtracks.

    So many great movies depend a lot on what the music invokes in us. The Magnificent Seven without Bernstein? Laurence of Arabia without that Maurice Jarre score? The Pink Panther without Henry Mancini?

    • #18
  19. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    This post was inspired in part by the music of Michael Giacchino, who composed the Incredibles score, among other accomplishments. 

    • #19
  20. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    As to the subject of scores, pardon me for repeating something that I said above–the common use today of a series of pop songs with lyrics as a “soundtrack” (presumably to sell soundtracks) robs many a film of a degree of ambience in order to allow the filmmakers to impose their choices about mood.  Classic soundtracks don’t really do that–yes, they provide drama or levity, but that comes from within the viewer.  About the only exception to this is when a film is very much of its own place and time, when pop songs of the era work.

    I like John Williams’ score for The Terminal very much.  The movie itself is very “contained” (hence the title), but the score expands it and adds to the experience in a way ten pop songs could not.

    • #20
  21. Quietpi Member
    Quietpi
    @Quietpi

    We’ve had several “practice dogs” in our family.  They wanted at least to be in the same room, and would often curl up even on the base of the music stand when Mrs. QuietPI or our kids were practicing, or  Mrs. QuietPI was giving lessons.  We never had one ask for music, that we know of.  Of course, it’s a little tough to sit beneath a flute or an upright piano!

    Nobody’s yet mentioned Handel’s “Messiah.”  

    Many consider Irving Berlin’s “Always” to be the most perfect song ever written.  It’s in the repertoire of one of my choruses.  Sometimes hard to get through it.  

    I love Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.”  Mrs. QuietPI doesn’t care for it – too agitating.  

    Bach: “Sheep May Safely Graze.”

    Luther: “A Mighty Fortress.”

    Shortly after 9/11/01 I sang “God Bless the U.S.A.” in a packed house, with a very high percentage of veterans.  When we began, the entire audience stood.  This was in a “Very Large Quartet,” (VLQ) – more than one person on each part.

    And that was fortunate.  Because back in the Green Room we discovered that at some point every one of us had to stop singing to regain our composure – and voice.  

    Taps.  So many emotions mingled.  

    In Basic Training there were no sources of music of the sorts to which I was accustomed.  Soon I discovered “Tattoo,” the next-to-last bugle call of the day, before Taps.  And it was really the closest thing I had to “real music” during that time.  I would stay awake if I could to hear it, and that would be my lullaby.  To this day it moves me.  

    • #21
  22. DrewInWisconsin Member
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Hoyacon (View Comment):
    Classic soundtracks don’t really do that–yes, they provide drama or levity, but that comes from within the viewer. About the only exception to this is when a film is very much of its own place and time, when pop songs of the era work.

    I was going to write a longer, crabbier post about the 1985 movie Ladyhawke, which I remember liking a lot. But although it’s set in the 13th Century, it has a decidedly 80s pop-synth soundtrack courtesy of a couple guys from the Alan Parsons Project, and that makes the movie really hard to watch.

    I would appreciate if someone created a special edition of that movie with an all-new score. Can you do that for me, Mr. Morden?

    • #22
  23. Vectorman Inactive
    Vectorman
    @Vectorman

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):
    It definitely helps that Williams’ score feels timeless.

    There is a reason that his music is timeless. He “stole” from the masters:

     

    • #23
  24. DrewInWisconsin Member
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):
    It definitely helps that Williams’ score feels timeless.

    There is a reason that his music is timeless. He “stole” from the masters

    Oh yes. Composers stole from each other all the time.

    The kids and I were also discussing the similarities between Holst’s Mars, the Bringer of War and Williams’ Imperial March.

    (We are so highbrow at Chez Drew.)

    • #24
  25. Franco Member
    Franco
    @Franco

    I’ve been learning Nino Rota’s Godfather score on violin. It hasn’t gotten the credit it deserves because the movie is so great, but a lot of the greatness is animated by the score.

    Rota uses chromatic notes liberally and this makes it so interesting musically. It’s a play on center. Ordinary life and politics is supposed to be predictable and on point. The chromatic notes are off, but make sense in their own context and structure. The listener hears there’s something ‘off’ , it is ominous and beautiful. It makes sense, but it gives the sense of an alternate system. The theme of the movie. I.E. “Who’s being naive, Kay?

    The other score I’m working on is Shindler’s List. Extremely moving.

    I once played with a singer guitarist who chose a very sad Irish repertoire. I learn mostly by ear, so I played along with these songs over and over in practice, at some point it took it’s toll. I  became an emotional wreck after a couple hours practice. I couldn’t continue and stopped working with him (!)

    Yes, music is emotion.

    • #25
  26. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Franco (View Comment):
    very sad Irish repertoire.

    Such as this one? Can’t sing this one through myself cause I weep…

    • #26
  27. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    • #27
  28. DrewInWisconsin Member
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Last week the 12-year-old and I went down the library. The library had some kind of special event going on, and the moment we walked in the door we were assaulted by the warbling of a couple of aging hippies and their folk guitars.

    It was . . . awful.

    We stayed just long enough to grab a couple books, then fled, our hands clapped over our ears.

    Yep. Music has power. But those powers must be used for good.

    • #28
  29. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    I love to watch this — I think I’ve viewed it at least ten times, and every time it just gets me. I love the conductor and the joy with which the whole orchestra is playing.

    I think I might have to watch and listen again right now…

    • #29
  30. Quietpi Member
    Quietpi
    @Quietpi

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Here’s an exercise for those of you with young children – I leave the definition of “young” to you:

    Repeat @CB Toder AKA Mama Toad’s 6th Grade teacher’s project, with Massenet’s “Meditation.”  Use this clip if you can, but cut off the applause.  Applause so often pops the bubble you the artist have created.  Don’t tell them anything about it.  Just play it and let them write.  And let us know what happens.

    • #30

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