Saturday, March 15, 2008

Long rambling thought on Language and Music

Over the last 5 years, I have made English language history a favorite subject. I found the evolution of the language fascinating. English’s earliest roots are the Indo-European language. As people moved and centuries past, the language changed and took on many new forms with new names. What we now call Germanic is where English really separated from the other main branches of languages. The Germanic language changed and became many more languages and we finally reach the period of Old English. Although mostly unrecognizable to our modern eyes, it is not hard to see that this strange language is the basis of what we speak now. Only about 20% of Old English remains in our current vocabulary. English was almost squashed as a language during the Norman Invasion. It was the language of the common and poor people. Yet, it endured. It was able to survive thanks to it’s flexibility and it took on new words while keeping the old. To this day, English is a very flexible language, creating new words constantly to fit with the changing times. It is versatile and expressive.

I wish I knew more of the language and could use great vocabulary in my daily expressions, but I must confess, I do not and it really doesn’t matter because the average English speaker wouldn’t understand the vocabulary anyway. For instance, if I were to mention in general conversation about the size of a vomitory, most people would think me being quite gross, but I’m not. A vomitory is a large doorway.

To switch subjects for a moment, I want to talk a bit about music. Music is a universal language. A group of people who can’t speak to each other because of spoken language barriers can sit together and listen to music. Music is fantastic. My parents introduced me to classical music at a very young age. Later when I entered middle school, I needed to fill some class time and I wanted to fill that time with music. I choose to play in the band. I picked an instrument I knew nothing about – the bassoon. I loved being a part of a large body of music. I loved the small, yet important addition that the bassoon provided to each song. I learned to appreciate the little changes and little additions found in a score.

This love of the small changes in music has continued in my life. Some of my favorite music to listen to are movie soundtracks. They are the “classical” music of this modern age. John Williams, John Barry, Harry Gregson-Williams and so many more and the modern form of Amadeus or Beethoven. Instead of writing for operas that people go to for entertainment, these modern men write for movies. My two youngest children love to listen to the Danny Elfman version of Willy Wonka. I must admit, I love it too. There is one song that I love and it is a silly song, but it has one moment that last for 2 measures or eight counts that I find lovely to listen too. The song is building into it’s main chorus and a flute joins in and plays probably 5 notes, but I absolutely love those 5 notes! It is silly and yet, I love that part. I’ve noticed this with other music. There will be a song and a trombone will come in playing a counter line in it’s lower register and it gives me the goose bumps.

Now, I want to tie in this English language thought and music thought. English has over 600,000 words, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. That is a lot of words. Music is the universal language and that makes the vocabulary able to describe music in the millions and billions! Yet, with all these words that are available to me, I can’t put into words what it is that music does to me. I can’t describe the way it makes me feel. I can’t tell about those 5 notes of the flute without using silly words like goose bumps.

I hope that when my life ends here and I enter into the world of heavenly beings, I will find the way to express the feelings I have for music. Perhaps something so heavenly as music can not be described in any other way than with heavenly words. Until then, when I listen to music and I say, “Oh, this part I love, listen to the flute. Isn’t that beautiful?”, just listen to what I point out and try to make a polite, yet meaningful comment like, “That was beautiful, it gave me the goose bumps.”

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