What is it with music that moves us?
Vail’s free concert is always one of the week’s best nights out. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s addictive swing, combined with some truly primeval weather, made for a particularly memorable experience. Sheets of rain, thunder that shook and blue cracks of lightning all helped the atmosphere at the amphitheater. With Lakota River Guides helping underwrite the performance, you have to expect some form of exciting water to be present.Instead of lazily socializing on the lawn, talking among themselves, people crowded into the sheltered seats and gave the music a chance to grab hold and then danced. Up on the near empty lawn, a happily wet few enjoyed the sensuous touch of wet grass on bare feet as they swung to and free in the downpour.Watching the happy crowd, you see how powerful a road into our emotions music is, and it’s quite a puzzle. We spend a lot of time and money on it. Why do we enjoy it so? To quote Plato, it’s a “soul to the universe, wings to the wind, flight to the imagination and charm and gaiety to life.”It predates the written word and probably even language. Baby birds respond to music, and milk cows give more milk to music. Does it plug into brain mechanisms that evolved to make animals respond to crying babies? Is music part of the natural world, or does the listener decide what is music? If so, then it’s unique to humans.We’re very very good at pattern recognition. Knowing when something doesn’t fit is a great survival skill. Music is a sound pattern, and like a good teacher it builds up, only adding new parts after establishing a base. This is true from sonatas to simple pop songs. When you understand the pattern, you can enjoy it. That’s why some songs grow on you. If it’s too complex it makes no sense and isn’t fun. Babies like simple lullabies, and some modern composers construct complicated music only they can understand.Once we know the pattern we can predict what it should do. Good music leads us and pleasantly surprises us or intrigues us by playing with the patterns. We can physically get a chill when a piece of music hits us. It doesn’t take much to know when a song is special or to recognize an old one. Four notes in Beethoven’s Fifth is all it takes to get us primed. So much so that no modern composer dares to use that sequence anywhere. It would only distract from what they’re trying to create. Those notes will forever be Beethoven’s.Now music is an individual choice. We all have our personal collections and digital devices that allow us to listen to what we want to. Our songs are part of our life, linking us to distant historical, emotional and nostalgic places without much effort.Rarely now do we get the chance to share music in a socially cohesive way. No more singing together while harvesting in the fields or down the mines, although soldiers still chant in boot camp as they speed march.The Tuesday night concerts provide an opportunity to share the emotions of music with friends and neighbors. Perhaps that’s why they’re so fun to go to, and I haven’t even got to dancing, which is as mysterious as it is fun. Dance can be described as expressing the feelings through movements of the body controlled by a musical rhythm. It can be spontaneous or artistic (following defined forms) and really makes no sense except that those who do it enjoy it. To someone who’s deaf, dancing might appear very strange without the emotions and sociability of music to underpin it. Brief ventures into the forms of dance over the centuries reveal how – like all fashion – odd it can be. Check out “The Evolution of Dance” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMH0bHeiRNg for a humorous summary of recent dance styles. Then go and watch the Festival of Dance at the Ford Amphitheater with a new perspective on dance fashion. Sometimes with too strict fashion and form forgets about the fun and pleasure that started it all in the first place.Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily. Vail, Colorado