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.