Friday, May 10, 2013

Dick and Jane on the Radio

I know many people who have a desire to learn a language that I've become fluent in.  It's not their native tongue.  In fact, it's a language that is so foreign to some people that they don't even realize it's a language.  And yet it's so familiar that they are exposed to it on a daily basis.


Some want to "speak" it. Others want to just be able to comprehend it, understand it, enjoy it, be profoundly moved by it.  It struck me last night while driving alone that there is a lot to be learned when we think of music as a language and treat it that way. 

We've all learned from personal experience that in our own native language, we can be sitting listening to a speech or testimony or read a book or article and the words spoken can affect us at that moment in a tremendous way so that our lives are dramatically effected, or our emotions profoundly moved; another person hearing or reading those same words at that same moment might not comprehend them at all, or just think they were "nice" and go on with their life unchanged. 

We have also learned that these two situations can occur in the same person.  A poem or scripture or book that I read and was profoundly moved by might have little power over me when I read the same words at a later time.

I find this same phenomenon with music.

You listen to a piece of music and are so inspired that you want to share it with someone, but you find they don't have the same reaction; an "aha" a piece of music has led you to leads others to scratch their head. Why is this?  We all know, if we think about it, right?  We're all working on different truths in our life's journey at different times.  Those things that profoundly move us are hinting at or teaching us truths that we are ready and choosing to learn. Someone else reading those same words or listening to that same music or viewing that same painting, won't find them so compelling if they already know those truths well or aren't yet ready for them.  At least that is how I understand the process.

But there is often another element at play.  After all, there are some pieces of art (including books, articles, poems, paintings, music etc.) that have so much truth packed into them that it is almost guaranteed anyone viewing, hearing, or reading them will find a truth they need or are ready to assimilate. If they are fluent enough in that language to comprehend it, to understand the deeper layers, or to see the patterns, they will... hear the music.  (Humbly doing something about that truth your eyes are opened to is a whole other topic).

So, what if there are truths we want to know that are being expressed in a language that is foreign to us? We could seek someone out that can translate those truths for us.  Undoubtedly, though, there is always something lost in translation.  Especially if translating music into a spoken language. What if we decide we want to learn that language to better enjoy those truths in their original form?  We'd need to begin learning and becoming fluent in that language.  This is all so obvious to us when it comes to spoken languages.  But because we don't recognize music as a language, we go awry in our efforts.  We listen to the "Shakespeare" or "scripture" or "C.S. Lewis" versions of music and find we are not moved; find we don't comprehend. We then pronounce a judgement upon ourselves - we just aren't musical.  We are missing some "music" bone in our body.  Is that really the truth, though?  I would argue, no.  But the truth isn't an easier answer to hear.  The truth is that we just aren't fluent in that language.  There's a bit of work to be done to get where we're trying to go. It will take time. It won't be easy.  We have to decide if it will be worth it.  A pursuit of truth never disappoints in my experience.

Okay, so maybe we want to try learning this new language.  How? Well, you already know one language, how did you learn that?  Maybe you know two, or three - how did you learn those? How have you taught your native tongue to your children? Didn't you first surround them with that language?  And you didn't surround them only with Mother Goose and Dick and Jane, right?  No, they also were exposed to deeper and more complex language and ideas.  They didn't comprehend those ideas at first, of course, but that exposure was key, right? 

I find in my culture, we make the mistake of surrounding ourselves and our children with only "Dick and Jane" music.  Maybe the spoken or sung words are in our native tongue - and maybe those native, spoken elements are deeper or more complex, but all I hear on the radio in the language of music these days never reaches above the complexity or depth of....a romance novel? And is usually stuck in that same topic :).  How can we then expect to listen to Bach's Chaconne moved?
Or even comprehend at all?

 That would be like asking me to listen to Shakespeare in Spanish and comprehend it - a Shakespeare I've never read. I'm familiar with the Spanish accent.  I can pronounce the words pretty well - I've had native speakers compliment me often on my pronunciation, actually.  But I can read through a whole paragraph and have no clue what 95% of the words mean.  Does that mean I have no ability to learn Spanish?  Nope.  It means I haven't become fluent in that language. I've only been exposed to it enough to be familiar with the sound of its accent and know enough rules to pronounce it.  

So therefore what? That depends.  Do you want to comprehend music?  Do you see any value in opening your mind to a world of ideas - to be "infected" by truths so profound to men and women over the ages that they felt compelled to share them - and turned to music to express them because they found their spoken tongue could not? (Granted, there is also the complex music that was written to impress or elevate status or make money and has little truth clearly communicated - you don't have to look far to find a correlation to this in your native tongue). Or are you content to be entertained by the more shallow Dick and Jane songs on the radio?  The Mother Gooses and the Twilights of music?  Or even the sensational tabloid versions of music? Yes, you'll find things that are clever.  Things that are fun; that pass the time; that distract from the rigors of life.  That kind of communication has its place.  But it isn't true art - it won't infect, it won't move, it won't change, it won't align you with truth.  It isn't the water that quenches your thirst.   

Begin to build fluency or not.  But don't give in to the lie that you can't.  I'm one that would have to argue - "you could do that." 

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