So much in music can be analysed with rational conclusions drawn as to why a certain result is produced. For example, why does a certain piece of music make you feel melancholy? On closer analysis the composer has no doubt made a series of strategic decisions to create that result; minor tonality, quiet dynamic, low register of a well-chosen instrument, slow tempo, simple rhythm, descending melody etc. The great Hollywood composers have been masters of knowing exactly how to evoke the necessary emotion from a scene, building on a huge legacy of skillful composition for many hundreds of years. Conscious and calculated.
However, I love that music still holds onto some of its mystery. Magical moments that defy analysis. Happy accidents that touch the hearts of millions. Somehow it can manage to penetrate through human boundaries such as race, language, class, education, religion, social status and generation. It can be deeply therapeutic; a massage for the emotions. It can reach the seemingly unreachable; humans with severe learning difficulties, people with severe dementia and even animals! How extraordinary and how little we really know about the secrets of our art even though some of us have made the study of music our lifetime pursuit! Here are a number of mysteries in music to contemplate:
What is it about the groove in a song that gets your body moving to the beat without any conscious thought?
How come certain songs on an album become hits? Why not the other equally well-produced songs?
Why does a certain melody become, as the expression goes these days, an “ear-worm” that plays in your head like tinnitus for hours and hours?
How does that sudden chord or key change manage to excite us?
Why do people rush to the dancefloor for certain songs and not others?
Why does one piece tick all the boxes for one person and yet leave another completely cold?
How does a piece of music manage to evoke such unexpected emotions; move you to tears, makes you feel depressed, angry or ecstatic?
Why do we feel such solidarity with strangers when we experience music in their company at concerts, sporting, and other public events?
Why is live music so much more immersive for performer and audience alike compared with a studio recording despite inherent imperfections and limitations that come with live performance?
I’m sure as you read through those enigmas, your rational mind couldn’t help but offer explanations. And yes, ask the right expert and no doubt they will have a plausible solution. But you’ve got to admit that music is full of wonderment. I absolutely love these secrets of music that have fascinated humans for thousands of years and will continue to do so for many more to come. Is there a danger in over analysing music? Maintaining the magic and mystery is surely the essence of humanity.