The Meaning of Music in My Life, Education Update 2016

I have no doubts that without music in my life, I would have not understood what art and creativity were about. Although there was some opera heard in my childhood (courtesy of my father, while I loved Elvis Presley), music was considered a hobby and something you did for fun in school and at home. You took piano lessons as I did at nine years old performing little recitals, etc., and that was it. By luck at fifteen as a fledgling saxophonist I went to the legendary jazz club Birdland in Manhattan and heard the great John Coltrane performing a few feet away. When I saw “Trane” as he is referred to, my first reaction was: ”That can’t be the same instrument I have at home!!” I refer to that night as “seeing the light”.….experiencing my personal epiphany.

The effect of that life-changing event along with subsequent visits to jazz clubs created in me a burning desire to get good, REAL GOOD on the horn. The rest as it is said “is history.” I got the chance to play with jazz legends, most notably with Miles Davis for a period in the 1970s. Needless to say that launched my career as a professional jazz musician. (My biography is well documented in “What It Is-The Life Of A Jazz Artist”-Scarecrow Press).

I have often thought about what it is that makes music so special, even compared to the other arts. For me it has to do with the abstract nature and transparency of sound. One doesn’t touch music and you can’t see it visually beyond written sheets. Music goes into the air, into the universe. Who knows how far music travels through the cosmos, comparable to light’s journey? In the physical world a person’s reaction to sound is completely unique to that individual, meaning a personal relationship is forged between the purveyor of sound (musician) and the receiver (listener).

It is becoming quite clear through present day research * that music affects different parts of the brain resulting in a feeling of euphoria, well-being and positive sensations. The effect that music has on human perception is clearly observable in the case of film scores. Watching the same scene with and without suitable music drastically influences the story line and subsequently the emotions of the viewer.

Music is non-denominational, though culturally it can be very specific reflecting the language, customs and even mores of a society. The universality of music serves as a great equalizer between people towards minimizing differences and emphasizing commonalities since everyone (even animals the research says) reacts to music. When I teach in foreign countries, as soon as I say Duke Ellington or Louis Armstrong, the audience nods in recognition no matter the language. Obviously some music may emphasize the dancing/celebratory aspect, while on the opposite side there is sacred music around the world. A human being doesn’t require specific learning skills to be moved by music, although of course with deeper listening to good music, the more enjoyment and sophisticated one’s response will be.

Music education opens a pathway towards feeling and emotion. If only for that reason it should be part of a young person’s development as a way to open the heart. The great triumvirate of all human endeavors referred to as mind, body and spirit are always striving towards balance. Music stimulates the mind, moves the body and most of all opens the spirit. It is the language of the cosmos and humanity.

* “Music and the Brain” from the Great Courses company provides a wealth of information on the research being done.