the present of music

February 16, 2016

 

In Genesis 1 God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” How can an infinite God existing in three Persons make something in His likeness? Miraculously, He compressed humans into a microcosm of the Trinity: I’m one person in basically three parts – body, mind, spirit. And I’d like to suggest that the three basic components to music correspond to our basic construction. At its core, music has three parts: rhythm, melody, harmony. Rhythm corresponds to our body (probably because we have a throbbing drummer in our chests called a heart); melody could be said to correlate to our mind, and harmony to our spirit. These categories are over-simplified, but the correspondence is remarkable. What this suggests is that we can enjoy the art of music with our entire being, not just our ears.  And the image of God compressed into the image of mankind is beautifully illustrated in the construction of music.

 

Keep these thoughts in the back of your mind, and let’s return to our three parts. I’d like to re-label them as body, left brain, right brain. I think is safe to assume we have all seen the effects of music on the body, so I’d like to focus on our brains. While there are debates in neurology about what’s called hemisphericity (the notion that each hemisphere in our brain operates somewhat independently and quite differently from each other), let’s maintain that we have essentially two brains, a Left and a Right.  In short, the left brain is the logic center, deals with data, processes sequentially and categorically, handles all sorts of minute details. It’s also obsessed with the past and the future. The right brain by contrast works in the abstract, feels more than reasons, deals with subjectivity and creativity, processes our essence, gets lost in the big picture and couldn’t care less about details. It is not a planner nor nostalgic but lives fully in the present. [1]

 

Most of us live very "left-brained" lives. We work in lists, data, numbers, spreadsheets—mostly logical, linear and categorized activities. Meanwhile our right brains sit off to the side wishing for a sun-lit meadow, a few birds and maybe a rainbow, a waterfall or two. Our right brain lives fully in the present, finds fulfillment in the now. Our left brain is constantly planning for the future by way of the past. Of course we'd never get anything done if we only listened to our right brain; we'd have a great time, but we wouldn't be very productive. However, I'd like to suggest that we would be all the more productive if we learned to engage both brains, finding ways to optimize the strengths and propensities of both hemispheres.

 

I think a perfect application of this whole-brain synthesis is music. Even though music is an abstract art-form that would seem to be most at home in the right brain, music requires a complex mixture of both brains. This is all the more so when you are creating and performing it, requiring complex symbol recognition; real-time aural analysis; real-time artistry and interpretation; tactile, aural and visual memory; collaboration; fine motor control; intense focus; and on and on the list goes. Music is immeasurably good for our brain! It's neurologically healthy to work multiple regions and to engage in activities that use both hemispheres.

 

This then brings us to the central idea of this article. Music is the ultimate present experience. It’s an obvious concept, but we can only experience music in the present. And it takes right brain cooperation and engagement to appreciate. Music forces whole-brain health!   

 

Which segues to a huge plug for Deo Cantamus’s March 19th premiere of a new oratorio of mine, Remember. I love the irony of this title within a discussion of being present. J

 

All the texts are various Scriptures on the subject of remembering God: remember who He is, remember what He’s done, remember that He is still working now, and remember that He is in control of our future. The piece is dedicated to my parents, Rand and Amber Hummel, who remembered to show me God; and I hope to show you some of the beauty of God in this oratorio.

 

How does all this remembering relate to living in the present? First, the past informs the present which in turn guides the future; and secondly, we learn from the past how to live fully and abundantly in the present.

 

Please commit to doing two things after reading this article. One, find ways to be fully present, to live right now, to be intentional about your now, to engage your right brain a bit more. And second, be “present” at the premiere of Remember, either at the venue or online! (click here)

 

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[1] These thoughts largely come from Harvard neuroanatomist, Jill Bolte Taylor. She has an amazing TED Talk concerning her left-brain stroke and has written a book, My Stroke of Insight. Some of her work can be accessed at https://www.ted.com/speakers/jill_bolte_taylor.

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