February 15, 2012
Composition and Conveyance
If a person speaks because they have something to say, why then does one compose music? Is there some sort of standard that determines when one is the more logical choice? Should there be? When someone reads or hears a line of dialogue that sticks, it doesn’t matter if there is music attached to it because it stands alone. It would be futile to try and put music to words that were intended to convey something powerful. Conversely, it would also be unnatural to attempt to put words to classical and recognized instrumental compositions. It is often said that songs with no lyrics have no pull; nothing to draw in the listener. This opinion can be argued by the fact that there is software able to identify a song from only a few moments of voiceless segments, and several web sites generating hundreds of thousands of views per day that focus on misheard, or commonly misunderstood lyrics. In these examples, one could question the need for lyrics at all. Language changes and evolves, or devolves as the case may be, over time. English, especially, absorbs aspects and stray words from other languages constantly, as is proven by the addition of about 4,000 words per year in the Oxford Dictionary alone. In addition to languages, there are musical instruments that can only be found in specific areas of the world. A pessimist might conclude that one would choose music over words solely due to educational limitations, or perhaps rely on words alone due to cultural taboos in regard to certain methods of composition. Regardless of personal opinions or observations, it is a fact that both music and the spoken word are capable of conveying emotion.
With an estimated 90,000 new words added to the English language in the 20th century, one can only speculate how many words have fallen into obscurity. Even classic English texts are increasingly difficult to read with each generation, let alone understand to the full extent of the message being expressed. So how, then, would one expect the lyrics written into a song to fare any better? Not all catch phrases and lingo make it into ‘pop culture’ immortality, so to speak. There exist songs that have been released as recently as the last 10 years that already suffer from confusing, if not embarrassing lyrics. Unable to be taken seriously, one could easily claim the song fails to convey its meaning at all. That is not to say there isn’t a certain nostalgia attached to a song, regardless of quality. Music often serves to ‘bookmark’ memories, for better or worse. With so much noise in the world, music that has a particularly repetitious and/or catchy hook line pulls attention away from the chaos and actually focusses the brain. This leads to clearer memories, and a more impressionable state of mind for learning and understanding. Doctors and teachers alike have been using classical compositions, themselves often hundreds of years proven, as learning aids for all ages of development from pre-natal to college. If music opens the mind, then it stands to reason that words and meaning would have an easier time getting through. As stated above, misheard lyrics can be just as entertaining. That concept is further expanded when one thinks of the music we enjoy being performed in languages we may not understand. Certain opera compositions have endured over 400 years in cultures completely uneducated in their native language. This is a pure example of when words, or vocals, become just another instrument in and of themselves.
Looking back in history, between 1600 and the mid 1800’s would certainly appear to be the birthplace of modern music. Bach may not have ushered in the Baroque era of music, but he stands as the most remembered figure. With his range and mastery over virtually every instrument and ensemble at his disposal, and the fact he taught so prominently, his influence remained the proverbial ‘how-to’ for literally