Music is so ubiquitous in our culture that I’m not sure we really hear it. It’s on every television program, including the news, in every movie, on our car radio, in restaurants, and it comes as a complete entity. It’s just … music. And it’s so easy to think of all this music as monolithic, rather than being made up of so many instruments, so many hands, so much careful breath and reading of notes.
Because I have no musical talent whatsoever, not a drop, a fact that is commented on by all members of my family whenever I attempt to sing or even hum, the pleasure of music perhaps means that much more to me. And there is nothing I can think of, with the exception of holding a child or the hand of a loved one that makes one aware of true magic than watching a concert of really good music, not just listening but watching as well. There they sit, the musicians, playing so many different instruments, but every one of them making up their part of the whole.
Within one week’s time, we attended two concerts. The first was a concert composed of young people of different schools all over our area, who had been awarded high ratings and thus were invited to participate in a series of concerts. These young ones had never worked with the conductor and never played the music they were given to perform, but such was their skill, and that of their director, that the music they rehearsed and played was lush and full. The second concert was a local symphony, comprised of professional musicians. It too was wonderful. Luminous.
But here’s the thing: how do they do it? How do so many individuals, of such diverse personalities and backgrounds, manage to read little black dots on paper that were written by someone they will never meet, begin a piece of music together, play the same music together, stop together? How do they all read a language that goes back centuries, that can be read by people who don’t even speak the same language otherwise?
Well, here’s what it seems: first musicians learn to read those little black dots, somehow. Then they learn to play an instrument, somehow. Then they learn to play an instrument according to the little black dots. Then they learn to play in tandem with fellow musicians. Then they sit down together and decide together to make some magic. It’s the only explanation.