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My Problem With Music

Res Publica

August 2010

by George Alecusan

After a long, and stressful, day it would be a relief to be able to go back to my room, close the door, pull out my guitar, and release my stress by picking the strings of a guitar in a rhythmic melody that creates a song that is known only to me. Piecing together rifts of music, in no particular fashion, my demeanor is tempered, my mood is calm, and my soul is transcribed into music. The significance of the guitar, the piano, violin, or any other musical instrument, as a stress-reliever is only rivaled by their respective ability to allow me to lament. With the right chord, key, or string progression I can create a story of regret or suffering with an ending, again, that is known only to me. The musical instrument, used to lament or relieve stress, is also able to make joyous and upbeat melodies creating an environment of laughter and happiness. With the ability to create music on an instrument I would be the author of any story and the illustrator of any picture that I could imagine. With these varying abilities of music the mountainous heights of joy stretch as far as my imagination can take me, but just as high as my creativity can reach, so too can it plummet into the deepest valleys of lamentation.

I am not the only one to have understood the significance of music as a means of mellowing the most hardened heart or lifting the spirit. The Holy Bible tells of David’s ability to please the troubled King Saul through the playing of his harp, but this is only an illustration of the potential good of music, and not the power of music in my own hands. The power that resides in playing an instrument for one’s own benefit has no other requirement than the time and ability to play the guitar, piano, flute, or violin. This is, however, also the great paradox for me, because I cannot, in fact, play any of those instruments, or any instrument at all.

So poor are my musical abilities that the very concept of a chord progression is understandable to me only in an academic, or abstract, sense. I may be able to recite a formulated definition of such a musical component, but I do not have a true sense of what this means. I have not been able to piece together even the beginning of any coherent musical piece on any musical instrument. The hypothetical situation mentioned at the beginning is simply that, hypothetical; really, it is more of an ideal, something I have long wished to be able to do, but have always known that it is not one of my natural or learned abilities. Taking the hypothetical situation of a stressful day, filled with all of the annoyances of the daily drudge, and coupled with my musical ineptitude it is impossible to believe that my stresses can be melted away with just a few chords of my own music. This is sad, but this is reality. It is true, that there are many other ways to relieve stress or feel joy, but few could doubt that music is one of the greatest means for accomplishing these ends. Again, I do not know this from personal experience but only from watching others compose music, like close friends, and listening to the tunes of men like Louis Armstrong or Johnny Cash. In listening to the lyrics and musical styles of these musicians, and others like them, there seems to be a real power in their ability to make music that tells the stories of their souls. The songs of Johnny Cash, for example, often tell stories of heartbreak and loneliness, or courage and heroism. The accompanying music reinforces these sentiments and speaks to the soul in powerful ways. Undoubtedly, he wrote or recorded particular songs during particular times in his life that reflected his current situation. He, therefore, has the ability I described earlier. He can create his own music to express emotions and seek comfort for the soul.

I am not able to make beautiful music of my own so I am restricted to listening to the music that others make. While there are many musicians, genres, and styles to choose from I am always reminded that it is not my music; it is not my creation. No matter how powerful the song “Spiritual” by Johnny Cash, “Fields of Gold” sung by Eva Cassidy, or “I’m in the Mood for Love” by Louis Armstrong may be they are their songs that I am simply borrowing the music they have created to express their own soul and cannot fully, or perfectly, express my own soul. To me, it is undeniable that I could benefit from creating my own music that expresses exactly what my sentiments are at the moment, and not simply come close to hitting the mark, as the previous songs allow me to do. There is, therefore, an unusual dialectic in this situation. I recognize that playing a musical instrument is a great virtue, but it is one that has always escaped me, and seems like it always will. This, therefore, makes me sad, and again, this sadness can’t be expressed, or counteracted, through my own musical creation.

My reliance on others to provide music that I can appreciate, and that can move my soul is humbling. Despite my most sincere and honest efforts the ability to play a musical instrument, any musical instrument, has always escaped me. Even the foundational principles of music are simply too abstract for my mind to comprehend in a way that allows me to put it into practice. I may be able to memorize every textbook definition of a note, scale, rhythm, beat, or stanza, but it will only resonate as mere words unable to be translated into any useful talent. I continue to hope, however, that there is an instrument that I am intuitively meant to play. Whether it is the harmonica, harpsichord, ukulele, or even the xylophone, I would be content to have some musical talent that would allow me to express the components of my soul. This desire of mine, however, seems unlikely to be fulfilled; I must rely on the works of others, more talented than I, and be reminded that the ability to play music is a virtue that I will not have.

George Alecusan is a senior from Hilliard, Ohio, majoring in Political Science and History.

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