I tend to prefer writing about things after I have a pretty good understanding of them, only sharing thoughts and ideas after feeling that I have "arrived" at my final conclusion. This may or may not be the best philosophy of writing. What is indisputable is that my complete, polished, well thought-out writings are few and far between - hence the scarcity of worthwhile posts on this blog. Whether this post proves worthwhile or not may be individually determined by the various readers; I warn you now that it has not gone through the tumbler of time, and is far from being well-rounded or polished.
Over the last week or two I have been trying to figure out how music works. I'm not referring to how the pitches are measured, how the sound waves travel to our ears, or how the timing and note lengths are calculated - I mean how music affects us. For music does affect us, doesn't it? In different ways for different people, certainly, but there are some elements to music that work on most people in similar ways.
Take the broad categories of Major and minor keys, for example. While not quite a truth universally acknowledged, it is commonly felt that pieces in Major keys tend to be bright, happy, joyful, or glad sounding, while pieces in minor keys tend towards being melancholy, sorrowful, angry, intimidating, or sad in sound. Why on earth is this? The only difference between the Major and minor scales is a slight shift in the pattern of whole and half steps. Both modes work with the same set of tones. How can it be that these two systems work on our emotions in such drastically differing ways? Why is it that, as a five-year-old, I felt Loreena McKennit's musical rendition of The Highwayman to be a melancholy song - even without understanding the words or the tale itself - merely by hearing the melody and the style of accompaniment? Why is it that George Winston's piano solo Corrina, Corrina, which I fell in love with around that same age, always filled me with smiles and made me dance across the room? And why am I fairly certain that these melodies would have pretty nearly the same effect on most listeners?
To bring in a separate yet related train of questions: is the Major/minor difference hardwired into people, or is it something that actually is, so to speak, picked up through social conditioning? I know that the Major and minor modes, which we of Western civilization use almost exclusively, are not always employed by other cultures; even our division of the octave into twelve semi-tones is not the only measure of pitch used. It would seem that with such differences between the types of musical systems, responses to the Major/minor modes would not be universal. And yet, it makes sense that there would be some commonality of responses to musical types, shared between people within the same culture, if nothing else... having all been created in the image of the same God, all people have the ability to express themselves creatively, through music and in other forms, and the ability to understand the expressions being produced by other individuals as well.
Along these lines, it might be said that music is the language of the expression, the tones are the words, and the melodies are the messages. Though you have the same set of words in your vocabulary, the way in which you arrange them drastically alters the meaning. Major and minor, then, could be described as being slightly different vocabularies that are arranged in different ways to convey a completely separate set of meanings. Songs in Major keys use an arrangement of the "words"/notes that are more representative of joyfulness, contentment, exuberance, praise, and happiness, while songs in minor keys use the "words"/notes better suited to expressing lamentation, pathos, longing, sorrow, anxiety, anger, and other deeply felt emotions.
Too many questions, too few answers, too little time to proofread - too late at night. :)
Hope you enjoyed this little look into my brain, such as it is.
Have a lovely day - and please do comment if you have the time!