Thursday, November 14, 2013

Of Brains and Music

I am teaching history to a group of music majors this semester.  Tonight I have been grading their papers on Beethoven.  This has been a learning experience for me.  While grading the papers, my first response has been shock at what horrible writers they are, their grammar and the mechanics of their sentences are a mess.  I don't consider myself an authority on grammar or the English language, but I like to think I can string enough words together to make sense. 

After my initial shock at the jumbled mess of their words, I found myself astounded at their complete understanding of musical composition, how instruments and sounds moved, how holding notes, or teasing sounds out of violin strings could change the emotion of a piece of music.  Reading their descriptions so enthralled me that I went to YouTube and began playing the pieces they were describing, not only of Beethoven, but other composers they were comparing him to as well.

Their understanding of how Beethoven composed his music as opposed to how other masters composed their music, and how the sounds and emotions differed was breathtaking.  Throughout my life I've heard many pieces of classical music, and I can count the pieces on one hand that have moved me. 

I never understood or liked classical music.  Much as I couldn't understand musical composition, these students couldn't understand the mechanics of grammar construction.  Tonight, however, by re-reading their descriptions of different pieces of music, and playing that music, those particular sections of the music, side-by-side, I think I finally get it. 

I'm having one of those moments of awakening.  I'm listening to music that although I've been exposed to it before, I've never really understood how to listen to it before.  I am amazed, I am moved, it's like a few words in a foreign language have finally clicked for me. 

Whereas my brain naturally understands words and how when they are put together in different variations can mean different things, these kids' brains hear and feel music in ways that I have to be taught to understand.  I'm getting chills just listening to what they've been describing.  I must thank them when I see them again next week. 

Here is a link to Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" that I have been listening to over and over.  It starts out very moody, painful, then veers toward lonely.  The kids have told me about Beethoven's penchant for unavailable women, and his longing for closeness.  In this piece they described his desolation, and how some notes hit bitterness or anger.  How he's slowly working his way through his emotions.  Then a light, as he starts to regain strength, understanding, pushing through his depression and working his way to a position of lightness.  You can hear the lightness as the notes go higher, and then he slips back to sadness and the notes lower again.  And their descriptions go on.  Anyway, listen for yourself and see if you can hear and feel what they did.
Moonlight Sonata


OldLady Of The Hills said...

That is so very interesting....Classical Music has been a HUGE part of my life since I was a little girl....I play the Piano, Violin and Viola.....All the GREAT composers have played a big part in my life, too.....
I think it is wonderful that you have gained an emotional understanding from your students----I would imagine that you might never listen to Classical Music the same way again after this wonderful experience.
I wonder why the students grammar is so bad! Strange.

Vancouver Voyeur said...

I know, I couldn't understand their issues with grammar either. Maybe their brains are highly developed in the musical, math, and reasoning areas, and not so much in the language areas. I don't know. I am listening to Beethoven again now. I'm finding it fulfilling. Who knew?

CyberKitten said...

Learning is a two way street.... that's part of the fun in teaching (so I've been told).

Oh, and welcome to the wonderful world of classical music!