I listen to music, even when I’m not. I don’t need an iPod, since my brain randomly generates music in my head wherever I am. It’s usually a snippet of classical music that’s playing, but sometimes it can be a pop song that I’ve listened to recently. Whatever it is, it’s something I’ve listened to enough times that my brain can repeat several seconds of it note for note in my head.
If literature is my first love, music runs a close second. Both can engage the mind and soul: the latter more with music, the former more with literature. They touch at poetry. Poetry is just words without music. Songs are just music set to words.
As I write this, I am listening to Schubert’s sublime Unfinished Symphony, the first movement. This movement is one that sometimes gets stuck in my head. Parts of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, as well, which became one of my favorite pieces after hearing it conducted by Toscanini (in 1939 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra). No one conducts it so well. Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” ala Furtwangler’s 1942 live recording also plays prominently in my brain, as does this orgasmic moment in Wagner’s Die Walkure (about a minute in, but don’t skip ahead, or you’ll miss the buildup).
In the pop world, there’s the Delgados. They’ve since split up, but they recorded this haunting song before they did (featured in the opening credits for the Gunslinger Girl anime). For rock music, there are few better than The Brilliant Green. “Hello Another Way” is my favorite song from them. And then you have all the musicians from the 60s. Bob Dylan. Simon and Garfunkel. The Beatles.
I could imagine a world without literature, sad as it would be, but I could not imagine a world without music. The composer Hector Berlioz once wondered if music was greater than love, for music can give an idea of love, but love cannot give an idea of music. I would add, too, that love can leave you. Music never does.
There was a period of time when I wanted to be an opera conductor. Considering how much some conductors wrote, in addition to their conducting duties, it’s not out of the question for me to be able to be a novelist, poet, playwright, and conductor. Well, a playwright would be hard. Operas are hard work, too: much harder than leading a symphony orchestra, where one doesn’t have to worry about costumes, staging, lighting, and everything else in opera that is added to one’s conducting duties, which are considerable on their own.
Like my dreams of becoming a scientist, however, my dreams of conducting were pushed back when I realized how much better others were at music than me, and also because–in the arts–serving one master is difficult enough.
Still, I can listen to and enjoy these recordings, and play them over and over again in my mind. That’s good enough for me.