(This post was first published on The Bookwallis Facebook page.)
Isn't it just?
It is so essential to our lives, yet many of us do not even realise it.
We listen to music consciously, making choices about the kind of music we want to hear.
But we also listen to it unconsciously...something playing in the background, or something playing in our heads...our memory.
WHAT IS MUSIC? Many theorists believe that it is hard to define music.
Being culturally specific, definitions change. The definitions of music vary from practical definitions, to theoretical, to philosophical. It is philosopher Jacques Attali’s definition which says that music is
‘A sonoric event between noise and silence.’....that strikes a chord with me.
It is this definition that I hold onto as I write.
Sitting at my desk, I stop and listen. I have a mini symphony around me...water drips from an AC rhythmically, a koel coos along, the fan whirrs, the messages on my phone beep in irregular intervals, a page flaps in the breeze and the keys of my laptop tap.
Putting them all together, it is quite a composition of sorts.
How often do we take the time to listen to the music around us?
As I listened, I relaxed and tapped my feet to the rhythm of the drippy water. My breath slowed and I sought comfort in the familiar rhythms.
“The music is all around us, all you have to do.. is listen”― August Rush (Piano Suite)
The first time I re-thought what music is, was when I came across this book at the school library. As I flicked through it, I found myself sliding down towards the floor, right near the shelf where I found it, lost in its pages. So it was this book that was foremost in my mind, as I started this theme. The book?...
GABRIELLA’S SONG AUTHOR: Candace Fleming ILLUSTRATOR: Giselle Potter
Little Gabriella picks up music in the sounds she hears around her…in the call of the street vendors, in the flap-flap of pigeon wings, in the ting-a-ling of church bells, in the jing-a-ling of lire, in the slap-slap of drying clothes, in the bump-de-bump bump of tethered gondolas along the canal walls, in the sweet, clear call of her mother, “amore mio”.
Within her heart, all these sounds blended and brought a song to Gabriella’s lips.
Gabriella hummed this song as she went about her day.
The baker picked up the tune because it made his heart seem light and hummed it as he baked. The widow Santucci heard the song and picked it up because it made her feel sad, longing for her younger happier days.As she hummed the sad song she picked up from the baker.
A gondolier picked it up, exclaiming that it was a song of love. The song wafted and weaved on the breeze, all through Venice, on the lips of its people until it finally reached the ears of a composer who was searching for inspiration. On picking up that song floating on the wind, the composer closed his eyes and could hear the sounds of the drying laundry, the pigeon’s wings, the church bells and all the sounds that made up Gabriella’s song. The composer worked day and night till he finally turned the song into a symphony.
This book made me question if we could really define music. It made me think about music in everything around us. It made me think about how tiny influences could be an inspiration. It made me think about how each of us perceive a piece of music in different ways. It was almost like Louise Rosenblatt’s reader response theory could be applied to listening to music too. It is a beautiful story which draws attention to how we could notice and find joy in the little things around us. It incorporates plenty of musical terms like ARIA, CONCERTO, CRESCENDO, HARMONY and a host of others that could be a gentle introduction to western classical music. The fact that the book is set in Venice, the city of music and the birthplace of Opera, throws it open to plenty of historical and geographical discussions. For younger students, the very basis of the book i.e. SOUND could be a great sensorial exploration through song and rhythm activities. The almost folk art style of illustration using earth tones appealed to me. The droll characterisation gave it a whimsical feel and the detailing in each image enchanted me.
As I flipped the last page of the book, I thought, ENCORE and went right back to the beginning again.
BEFORE JOHN WAS A JAZZ GIANT: A SONG OF JOHN COLTRANE AUTHOR: Carole Boston Weatherford ILLUSTRATOR: Sean Qualls
“Before John was a jazz giant, he heard hambones knocking in Grandma's pots, Daddy strumming the ukulele, and Mama cranking the phonograph.”
With minimal, yet cleverly written text, set in a rhythmic cadence, the author tells us the story of a young John Coltrane before he became a jazz giant. It is a simple, easy to understand text in which the author drops details of young John Coltrane’s life, his surroundings and his family, by telling us about the sounds he heard. Whether it was the sound of his preacher grandfather’s sermons, the sound of the steam engine whistling past or the sobs of his relatives at family funerals which tells of him losing close family members.
At the heart of the book lies the fact that before John Coltrane was a jazz giant “he was all ears.”
I really liked this book because just like Gabriella’s song, this too emphasises that music is everywhere and almost seems to invite readers to listen to the music in their own lives. The simple text lends itself to a biography that is easy to read and understand, perfect for younger children.
For those who want a more detailed biography, there is a page that gives further information about John Coltrane’s life and work at the end of the book.
MARSH MUSIC AUTHOR: Marianne Berkes ILLUSTRATOR: Robert Noreika
The stage is lit by the fireflies, as the musicians take their places. The musicians...different species of frogs in a marsh. They begin their performance, softly but slowly build up to a crescendo as the music goes on, all being conducted by Maestro...the BullFrog. Just before dawn, the frogs begin to exit the stage, but the performance is not over---as the birds take over under the spotlight of the sun.
I found this book is a wonderful observation of the sounds in nature, especially the songs of different frog species. The author liberally sprinkles the text with musical vocabulary to describe this ‘performance’.
SAHANA MAKES MUSIC AUTHOR: Ravi Mundoli ILLUSTRATOR: Noorain Ahmed
Sahana listens to the sounds outside her house and explores different household objects, as she makes her own music. A wonderful introduction to exploring sounds with different objects.
SQUEAK, RUMPLE, WHOMP, WHOMP: A SONIC ADVENTURE AUTHOR: Wynton Marsalis ILLUSTRATOR: PAUL ROGERS
This book is an exuberant and fun exploration of the sounds around the neighbourhood. A wonderful book especially for a city child, to pay attention to the man made sounds around us.
What all these books do, is to help the reader understand that music is all around us. From birds chirping and waves lapping against a coastline, to cars honking in traffic.
Sometimes these simple everyday sounds, when put together while exploring sound, silence and rhythm, can create a specific atmosphere or can express an idea or an emotion.
By another definition, such organisation of sounds is ‘MUSIC’.
My choices are based on a hope that the books could inspire children to notice the little details around them…..what they hear, what they see, what they sense.
“My idea is that there is music in the air, music all around us; the world is full of it, and you simply take as much as you require.” – Edward Elgar
Having grown up with a western style of music, I naturally lean towards this. However, I do hope you can apply the ideas to Indian music or any other forms of music and dance, you may be familiar with. - JoAnne “Music is to the soul what words are the mind.” - Modest Mouse