Music As A Second Language

When I was around 4 years old, my parents took me to a movie to see a very soppy film. I was told later in life it was about two married people who were having an illicit affair and then had to end the affair and go home to their boring spouses. Being a well behaved little blob, I sat through almost the entire movie silently until the parting scene where the two lovers were taking their final leave of each other.

My mom reports that as the two were saying their last goodbye’s I burst into tears, wailing to the point where Mom had to haul me out of the theatre to prevent ruining the effect of the film on the audience because many people had begun laughing at such an outpouring of grief from a toddler.

Years later I happened to see the movie in question on the TV late-night movies, those black and white throw-aways from the past that were used to fill in time until the station went off the air. Not much of a TV watcher but not being able to sleep because of some worries, I was half watching, half trying to decide solutions to my own problems when the final farewell began taking place on the little screen in front of me and then the mystery of why I had burst into tears at age four was solved. The background music playing was Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony, the Symphony Pathetique.

The 4th movement is the one that clicked in my mind as being tragic and told me that something very sad was happening to the characters on the screen. The music completely bypassed my tiny mind that had no idea what the movie was about and told me that this was a very terrible moment for the two people on the screen, that they were sad beyond tolerance and that they would probably never get over it. And I burst into tears of empathy once again.

The effect of some music is purely emotional. It does not need words. It goes directly to emotions. Classical music and other instrumental music can do this. Songs and rap music do not, for the most part, do this. They can evoke memories, emotions and other personal remembrances. I have used them to help recall where I was or what I was doing when they first were popular on the radio. But Classical Music, – especially the Russian composers is the best for the total switch that completely ignores words and goes straight to the emotional part of the brain.

The composers of such music possibly hear this language in their head and then write it down in the dots and dashes that we see as written music. I feel that it is a definite language. We should understand it as such and listen to the story it is telling. No need for a movie in the foreground.