There are two pieces of music I’d like you to listen to. The first is The Graceful Ghost by William Bolcom played by George Winston. The second one is The Schubert Blues by Elena Kats Chernin played by Stephanie McCallum. It is not available on youtube but you’ll find it on Spotify.
Both pieces are relatively short and when I listen to them I feel certain emotions wash over me. The pieces are very different to each other and similarly the sensations I feel in response are different. I don’t think either piece could be considered subtle and this is perhaps why they are so immediately successful at bringing out an instantaneous emotional response.
I could write out a few words describing either the pieces or the way they make me feel – good, solid abstract nouns.
It helps that I had heard neither piece before December of last year and that neither piece is particularly well known. I could come up with equally good words to describe Smells Like Teen Spirit for example, but my choice of words would be tempered by 20 years of exposure and 20 years of cult crit.
So how about we take a class of 10 year olds and play them a piece of music? We then give them a list of 100 or so choice abstract expressions. Their job is to find just the right word to describe both the piece and the way the piece makes them feel. You’d need adults to work their way around the room to facilitate it.
Part of what would be exercised here is a generosity of spirit. Would it be legitimate to answer the question What is your reaction? with ‘none’? Well my reaction to Chris De Burgh’s Lady in Red is visceral. Visceral in the negative.
Of course for the exercise to work you have to be prepared look inside yourself, which might be a disaster if it was played out in front of the whole class as a group exercise. Despite this, I wonder if approaching music this way might be educational. I still remember talking to someone years ago who said that when you look at pictures at an art gallery, you should never take longer to read the museum label than you do to look at the picture. That stuck with me.
So, the potential benefits of this approach:
- generosity of spirit
- music appreciation
But what we’re really talking about here is how to label what you feel. In effect you would be using music to generate the emotion and then vocabulary to express it. I wonder how many of the problems in the world come down to people being out of touch with how they themselves feel. Perhaps if they learned to properly express it earlier, and with a generosity of spirit, there would be less necessity to vent it!