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Music: In The Beginning

Is music an activity we’ve consciously pursued to ornament our lives or is it a necessary and inevitable human function like the need to eat, drink and sleep?

"Music Of The Spheres," an ancient philosophy, claimed that the sun, moon and planets were in a harmonic, mathematical and religious order determined by the physics of music, although not necessarily audible. This describes a universe that is subject to the science of music. A theory, I assume, most if not all astronomers and cosmologists  would reject today. However, the undeniable deduction from this ancient theory was the importance given to music.

A different take on the idea of music as a grand design is posited by Mickey Hart and K.M. Kostyal in their book Song Catcher where they write that, “Music expresses who we truly are and links us with the infinite universe; it is the orphan of the Big Bang that blew us into existence”. Great visuals but a difficult concept to prove.

The physics of sound, in particular, the harmonic overtone series, may give music a more tangible link to us. The harmonic overtones first sound out notes that are octaves and then a fifth and later thirds are heard. All of these intervals occur when any note or sound happens. From what we know of the earliest music, only unisons and octaves were used. Plainchant or Gregorian Chant  began with unisons and octaves, and as it evolved, the use of  fifths appeared.  Thirds were introduced in western harmony somewhat later in the Middle Ages.  All sounds create these harmonic overtones and they seem to mimic our melodic and harmonic chronology. I find this a compelling argument because it links the physical world of acoustics to the human progression of music creation. Granted this is only the progression of western music that I am referring to here. It does make me wonder though, if birds and other creatures have this same internal awareness of the harmonic overtones.

Anyone who has listened to babies earliest sounds will notice a distinct sing song manner to it. Workers have used song and rhythm to help with their labors. There is no known past or present society that hasn’t had music and its partner dance as part of their fabric, from the smallest most remote tribes to the most technologically advanced. It is used to express all emotions and thought, from love and passion to  cerebral meanderings and religon. Music adds potency and depth to the human experience and runs the gamut from background for TV and films to inducing  euphoric trances in ancient and modern rituals.

Hearing is the only sense that is mechanical in nature; using a drum and a series of canals and hairs to transmit the sound to our brain. Paradoxically it was the last of our five senses to develop even though its construction may seem primitive.  Why would sound, and therefore music, that took such a long time to evolve hold such a lofty place in our lives?  The value and purpose of music has been pondered throughout time by man, with seemingly no clear answer. What is clear though is that music has enriched us in countless ways throughout our short history on earth and just might be the most essential nonessential thing in our lives.