Thoughts on the Role of Classical Music in our Lives

by Evan Tublitz—-As a regular blogger here on HudsonSounds, I tend to focus on my area of expertise which, undoubtedly, is pianos. However, as my regular readers know, I tend to muse on the role of music both as an art form and as a forum to express ideas that cannot be discussed through words. Today, I would like to focus on the role that classical music plays in edifying the listening public.

Firstly, as most would know from their classical music radio stations, there is a large bit of programming of ‘lighter’ music from the baroque and classical periods. Primarily, this trend is due to the nature of the music being ‘background’ music for many listeners……………nothing too intense or too challenging!  However, I see it differently. I believe that those who tend toward the ‘lighter’ classics are attracted to the ‘calming’ influence of the music that serves as a musical mantra that calms the spirit in a world that is running ever faster and becoming more stressful. We all remember the iconic TV ad for bath salts with the woman in the bathtub saying the famous line, “Calgon…………take me away!”.

Calgon TV Ad Music does much the same thing for those who listen in this way — providing a respite from the cares of the moment in our demanding lives. Note: Most baroque and some classical period pieces take their form from court dances which, by their very nature, were ‘entertainment’ or less emotionally challenging music. Few broke out of that mold but it should be noted that the classical period, as most appropriately represented by Haydn, broke out of the incidental, dance or ‘entertainment’ music mold and started to inject more gravitas and emotional challenge (Sturm und Drang, for example).

Of course, each period of classical music has its own specific expression of musical ideas and style and one could justly conclude that, from the 15th century to the present, classical music form had become more complex, more challenging to the listener and sought to speak to us in more multi-layered and sophisticated ideas and statements.

One great anomaly, of course, is the music of J.S. Bach which IS timeless and has a multiplicity of layers and complexity despite the fact he still employed the typical dance motives of the period. As music developed over the centuries and with greater complexity, the listener was no longer expected to sit back and let the music ‘wash’ over them for relaxation. Instead, they were expected to go on a ‘journey’ with the composer to experience a ‘programme’ or narrative which the music was expressing. The ‘story’ was the springboard to illuminate and convey feelings and ideas that were not able to be adequately communicated through words or pictures.

Emotions began to play a deeper role in this music and we began to tap deeper into all the ideas and feelings connected with the human experience. We started to find that music NOW provided a deeper emotional and intellectual catharsis for us and allowed us to let the composer express OUR feelings and deeper emotions and ideas for us. Of course, this became a moving experience for those who went on that ‘journey’.

Concurrently, music also became more intellectual while expressing philosophical, spiritual and even political ideas that could not be expressed within the confines of other traditional communication. (Shostakovich was a prime example of music as political dissent and expression). As humankind developed further and the political and financial opportunities became expanded beyond those who always had power, different and more diverse forms of expression emerged replete with a wider range of ideas to reflect all segments of society’s concerns. Throughout human experience, contrary to what many may believe, human emotions and ideas have always been myriad and complex. However, music and art was more limited in expressing such things do to the constraints of form and tradition. Interestingly enough, philosophy seemed to have more purview in this arena — great thinkers discussing the issues of human existence.

As musical form became more complex and the tradition no longer controlled by the ruling classes, musical expression also became more emotionally complex, democratic and more representative of the deeper feelings of human experience. It is my contention that these deeper feelings in all of us have very little outlet for expression and becoming involved in music that expresses those complex emotions is both cathartic and satisfying. In a strange way, it is almost a necessity for psychological health to get those feelings out in some way and have an outlet. As modern psychological thought has confirmed, sublimated feelings always find their way out in expression whether conscious or unconscious. I believe that, when we listen to music expressing very deep, complex emotions and ideas, we actually have an outlet for such emotions that may be ‘bottled up’ inside us and require expression. Oddly, the composer is both artist and ‘therapist’ for the listener and gives each one of us and outlet to express what is trapped inside us.

For many years, I have advocated that it is necessary and psychologically healthy to develop some form of creative expression in order to release one’s inner feelings and thoughts. The field of endeavor or medium is less important than the process of expressing one’s deeper emotions that cannot be expressed in normal daily existence. Obviously, the creative arts tend to be more effective than other human endeavors for expressing such ideas and emotions but I do find great creativity in many of the sciences and other fields that can give vent to the complexity we all have within us. So as I have proselytized for years, pretend you are a great artist/musician, philosopher/thinker, scientist, etc. and express your inner self!

In conclusion, music provides us with a soothing relief from the stresses of our daily existence AND also gives us expression for the deeper feelings and ideas that may be ‘trapped’ within us. If they are not stuck within us, then music and other art forms can give us confirmation for the feelings we have and have expressed to our self and others. Artistic expression allows human beings to become whole and more integrated and thus healthier as well. The idea that music and other artistic expression is not just entertainment, but has a much deeper role in society and human experience is often considered a radical idea. I will end this discussion with the hypothesis that the role of the arts in society is beyond entertainment but does express deeper emotions that, once vented, can contribute to helping avoid many of our world’s troubles and bring a greater sense of belonging and community.

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Editor’s Note:  Evan Tublitz’ post was originally posted on August 4th 2014. As always, we want to bring to the forefront what our bloggers are writing about. If you are interested in sharing your thoughts on Contemporary and Classical Music via HudsonSounds.org, please send an e-mail expressing your interest to:  HudsonSoundsInfo@gmail.com

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