I think Music is the deepest language of our species.

Sound is the merest breeze on the surface, like the ringtone that tells me someone is calling.

A melody is a simple sentence. Happy Birthday To You is as common and understandable as “Where are my car keys?”

When rhythm and tone color make my feet move, my hips sway, and my mood change, I’m swimming in poetry, soaked in a Rhapsody in Blue.

When I am engulfed by a Wagner opera or a Mahler symphony, I’ve gone down in a diving bell, and my world shifts completely. I can feel the weight and complexity of the ideology communicated through these grand works; they move me and change me, physically.

Knowledge adds something to the experience of any language, but it is not the experience. Even though I can read musical notation, though I’ve learned a chronology of musical styles and composers, and I can identify a hundred compositions at the drop of a needle, I still haven’t experienced all there is to music. Even when I make music, the transformative power of the language can be illusive. My body is involved. My mind is involved. I feel my soul is involved. A community may be involved. Having all those elements involved at a level that reaches past the musicians’ egos, beyond continental shelves and cultures, and touches the deepest purity of global communication is a real phenomenon. It is powerful and rare, but it can and does happen when I am open to the possibility.

I know I’ve felt the transcendence of musical language. Perhaps you have, too. I now look for its icons everywhere. Even a glimpse is enough to move me. I get chills watching flash mob performances sometimes. What is that about? Why would I be moved by that kind of cheesy marketing for an upcoming production? Maybe it’s just my soul longing for a spontaneous communal acclamation of life. Why do I select clips of talent shows to watch a nervous young singer connect with an audience through the tremulous wagging of vocal folds? Maybe it’s because I relate to her yearning for a physical experience of expression and belonging.

But these are mere snapshots. Being present with live music is the gateway to the oceanic realm of the language. In the concert hall, I sit in the dark, in the center of an acoustic grotto. I let the waves roll over my tympanic membrane. I breathe with the phrasing of the melody, and feel my heart come into rhythm with the pulse of its message. Emotions rise to the surface. Memories and intuition swim in my consciousness. I am sent on a voyage to a new shore, a new experience, a new knowledge.

When I am one of the performers, I may be standing in the light of the rising sun, with the spray crashing over the deck, sounding the call to sail on through the storm. I may be rocking in the moonlight, sending my lonely thoughts over the still, open horizon. The language within me spills out in long waves, rising and falling, on and on, until my breath is spent, my message complete. When I am silent, the music continues.

I am the rest between two notes,
which are somehow always in discord
because Death’s note wants to climb over --
but in the dark interval, reconciled,
they stay there trembling.
And the song goes on, beautiful.
---Rainer Marie Rilke
excerpt from The Selected Poetry of Rainer Marie Rilke by Rainer Marie Rilke translated by Stephen Mitchell

© 2017, Priscilla Galasso

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