Connect with music

There are very many people who love music and count it as an important part of their lives. It brings them considerable joy. However, there are far more people who never seem to ‘connect’ with music – it plays little or no part in their lives. This may be because they have yet to come across the type of music that really suits them. For example, somebody who would love smooth jazz who has only ever come across bland pop music and a few bits and pieces of classical music may never fully appreciate what music can offer if they have never encountered what suits them. Similarly, someone who is brought up in a household where smooth jazz is widely played may never come across Mahler’s fifth symphony, even though that may be far more to their liking than what jazz has to offer.

Horses for courses is one way of looking at it, but it is actually far more complex than that. Different types of music work in different ways, but their effect can be different at different times too. For example, there may be times when you could really enjoy something energetic and strongly rhythmical, while at other times, that would just give you a headache. At other times, you may welcome something infused with powerful emotions and be uplifted by it, while, on another occasion, that type of music may be just not what you are ready for at that time.

Part of the problem is that, in our commercialized, materialistic world, music tends to be presented as an entertainment, and often a superficial one at that. But, what if we were to see music as more as a spiritual matter, something that brings meaning to our lives, something that gives us a sense of awe and wonder? What if we were to see music as something that is part of what it means to be human? ‘Soul’ music is on particular genre of music, but perhaps all music is about soul or spirit, albeit not necessarily in a religious sense. Think, for example, about how music can ‘raise our spirits’.

Much will also depend on our cultural background. What is considered beautiful in one culture will not necessarily be so highly valued in another culture. This applies as much to music as to other forms of aesthetics. Similarly, there will be musical subcultures related to different genres. What a regular folk club attendee loves for its simplicity and direct musical appeal may be precisely what someone who loves complex multi-layered music finds decidedly unappealing. In addition, cultures and subcultures change over time. Early rock music that at the time was seen by many as ‘just a noise’ and rejected as ‘not proper music’ is now described as ‘classic rock’ and highly revered by a wide range of people, including many who rejected it first time round.

Cultures bring people together, but they also create barriers and boundaries. What musical cultures can do is isolate us from other types of music. A blues aficionado may not even consider listening to progressive rock, while a lover of the classics may be closed off from what the blues can offer. There is therefore much to be gained by being open to new musical experiences and not just sticking to what we know best and feel most comfortable with.

And, of course, what is really important is that we actually listen to the music, giving it our full attention. In these days of bland muzak in the background, for far too many people, hearing music is a superficial exercise – it is indeed a matter of hearing, rather than listening.  Some forms of musical expression are acquired tastes and need to be listened to carefully before they can be appreciated. Sadly, in our hurried, pressurised world, many people will never know the beauty and value of music, because they will never fully connect with it. The great irony here is that what music offers can, to a large extent, be an antidote to the dissatisfactions of that pressurised world.

Avoid the money trap

Capitalist economies work on the basis of constant consumption. To keep the wheels of the economy turning people need to keep spending money. So, companies need to keep coming up with new things for us to buy, new fads and fashions, new technological gizmos and so on. Alongside this is the tendency for success in life to be measured in material terms – not just the size of one’s bank balance, but also signs of what has come to be known as ‘conspicuous consumption’. This involves displaying symbols of wealth and standing: expensive cars, designer clothes, being seen out in the most expensive restaurants, and so on. Of course, these two phenomena are not separate. This is because all this conspicuous consumption keeps the economy going, and, in turn, much of the media message put across is that wealth can bring happiness: spending money is good for you, so the more money you have, the happier you can be.

The reality, of course, is very different from the rhetoric. While having lots of money can no doubt bring many advantages, there are at least two flaws in the consumerist logic. First, as human beings, we are highly adaptive creatures. So, the more money you have, the more you get used to it, the more you adapt. For example, if you occasionally have a treat of the finest foods, you can really appreciate what they offer. But, once the finest foods become your staple diet, you soon find that they lose much of their appeal. We have adjusted to the new situation; it has become normal. This is part of the reason why wealth can bring greed. Once you adapt to the new situation, you want more, you want something new and exciting – something more expensive perhaps.

Second, there are many important things in life that money can’t buy, of course. Focusing all our attention on material rewards can not only give us a distorted picture of what is likely to bring happiness, but also stand in the way of that happiness. What I am thinking of in particular is the way in which materialist ambitions can create problems. Consider, for example, the marriage that breaks up because one or both partners is focusing so much on promotion and career success or on building their business that they are neglecting their family life. Consider also the children who grow up not feeling loved because one or both parents struggle to express their love except in materials terms – gifts, holidays, expensive meals out. Nice though these things might be, they are, of course, no substitute for a genuine, heartfelt expression of love.

Sadly, there are also many people – far too many, in fact – who are well paid, but who gain little or no satisfaction from their work. I have always respected a friend of mine who was promoted and was therefore paid more than before. However, she got far less job satisfaction in her new job and therefore returned to her old, less well-paid job at the earliest opportunity. I wonder how many people would be much happier in a less well-paid job that brings them more job satisfaction. Very, very many, I suspect.

There is much talk these days of spirituality, although much of it is superficial and simplistic, not doing justice to the complex issues involved. ‘Spirit’ is linked to the idea of breath, what keeps us alive and, by extension, what gives our lives meaning. If all that gives our lives meaning are money and materialism, then, however financially rich we may be, we are in fact very spiritually impoverished. Some people are so fixated in financial gain that they cannot see the benefits of so many other things that can offer far more than money in the bank or a flash car on the drive.