Saturday, October 31, 2015

Oct 31-Annapolis, MD Happy Halloween!

Hello people of the present & future-

It's been a long while since I've posted; although I have been busy, I've had time. I just had forgotten how fantastic it was to make myself accountable to write. I wanted to be a writer when I was a kid (and a cast member of SNL…and a marine biologist), and one of the main reasons I love to write is for the healthy meditative aspect. So with that in mind, I am going to try and commit to posting more frequently. 

Also, fortunately for me, a lot of amazing folks have said some kind things about the things that I write! Pretty cool; in fact its very reassuring that my ramblings don't come across as awful. In fact, to some folks, I might even be entertaining. 

I'm currently sitting in kind of a tragic hotel in Annapolis; a Best Western. I love Best Westerns because we have the same initials, but this place is pretty miserable. That being said, I can't think of a better place to celebrate Halloween. This place doesn't feel haunted necessarily; however I do feel like I might be murdered.

The past month has been a professional whirlwind and there is nothing I want more. I played in San Francisco at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival with The Indigo Girls. I played at Chastain Park and Eddie's Attic with Michelle Malone. I rocked Smiths Olde Bar with Caryn Womack. I've begun rehearsals for the musical "A Christmas Carol" for which I am playing bass in the pit. I've played with the fabulous El Quattro, who I will write about in length many times. I've been hard at work writing songs with the best production team in the world, Mercalli Music. I'm about to kick off a 17 day tour with Indigo Girls of the northeast. 

All of this has been so much fun, and I appreciate the opportunity to pursue music more than ever. I am eternally grateful for all the support. I learned long ago that bass is a harmony instrument; its very difficult for it to exist on its own. In a similar vein, that is how I feel about my life. I have tremendous friendships and a beautiful family. And, while I don't have a girlfriend, I have something like 11 bass guitars & I would take those numbers again and again :) 

For my first blog back, I'd like to muse a schtikle about the importance of riding the various waves that crash into the courses of our lives. Some of these waves take us closer to our tropical island destination; others will smash into our hulls and perhaps wreck us of course. However, whether waves are good or bad is almost irrelevant, because the correct course of action is always to push thru. 

When I play the bass, I can usually feel if a show will be good or bad after a few minutes. And I will admit that often times this realization will spurn somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Nevertheless, there are plenty of times when a terrible show turned into a transcendent performance, and that's because I didn't panic. 

I have a hard time not panicking in regular life. In fact, sometimes I feel paralyzed by worst case scenarios that haven't even happened. But, as usual, my musical habits are years ahead of my emotional ones (sorry friends). 

The key comes down to recognizing the power of the moment and marshaling that towards your goals. If your goals have integrity? Even better. There is an amazing energy force that comes with this epically bad shows, just as there is an amazing energy force that comes from the amazing musical moments I sometimes find myself in. Either way, the feeling of a vital energy pushing myself towards intensity is something that we can ignore, we can let wash over us, or we can use it to our advantage. I used to try and treat every concert the same way no matter what; I'm doing my job, I love it, etc. That isn't necessarily the right way. 

We have to enjoy the good moments and we have to make it thru the bad ones. All the while we must ask ourselves why? Why is this good? Why is this bad? What made this happened and how can I make it happen again? How can I avoid it? 
You can't live in your head when are playing music; you must be emoting in a super free way. The best way to do this is to keep a still mind, realize what moment you are in, and continue to play the correct chords. 

I've had some dry moments professionally and simply reframed those moments as an opportunity to learn more as a musician. These dry periods are great for growing as a performer and supporting other musicians. 

I'm on a beautiful professional streak right now & it probably won't last forever. But it might. And I'm pretty open to that idea as well :) 

With that written meditation on paper, I will say that I'm looking forward spending the night in this horrifying hotel. Maybe a ghost will come into my room in the middle of the night. Maybe there will be an eerie mist that creeps into the first floor of the Annapolis Best Western. Maybe this ghost will help me finally learn the correct chords :) 

trick or treat; we need 'em both,

Benjamin 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Five Times I've Shot Milk Out Of My Nose While Listening to Rap


          First a bit of necessary backstory; as a kid who grew up in the 90s in Atlanta, I've been into rap music since I started getting into music in general. It also helped that I was and still am a huge fan of 90s basketball (Glen Rice forrrrrrrrr 3!). It seemed to me like that was the heyday of all that original swag, but while rock music has gotten pretty square over the years (and incredibly pretentious), hip hop continues to push forward.

One of rap's biggest fans, Michelle Benbama

          I love the rap industry; I'm the smallest part of it, just a bass player, but I see the way all these people treat each other. It's very business-like, but with a great amount of respect for what each individual brings the table. From my experience, it is more about teamwork than anything else. Certainly more about teamwork than being in a band.

          And there are unbelievable hip hop lyricists out there. Gangstarr's Guru raps what are essentially well written essays about important subject matter. But as evidenced by the title, you won't be seeing any of Guru's verses highlighted here. So without further adieu…

5-Candy by Will Smith
-You know I've gotta lead this off with a heavy hitter. I remember bumping this disc (Big Willie Style, if you didn't know) on my walkman on family trips in the old Vo. I could always relate to the metaphor in this song, because I've always had kind of this emotional/sexual thing with candy (don't reread that). So when Will really busts out with that Independence Day swag in the 3rd verse, whew. 

"I know the deal, I talked to Mary Jane and she said
Your ex-boyfriends Mike and Ike are both Lemonheads
I ain't tryin' to playa hate girl I know
That you go with Bazooka Joe
Now you know he don't love you like that
He tryin' ta get a Reese's piece of the Kit-Kat
Really hon, what he need is a Jawbreaker
Cause I'm the one that'll love you baby, Now and Later
Be my Peppermint Paddy with a hundred wishes
And I'll be your Hershey daddy with a hundred kisses
Get the Twins M&ms, they booked all outta flights today
Me and you can Starburst to the Milky Way
I don't care what it cost, girl a hundred grand
we could snicker all night at my jolly ranch
just me and you, I'll call your friends up too
I could get my friends Babe Ruth and Charlston Chew."



TLDR: With a whopping 19 candy references in one verse, Will Smith reminds the world that more than his movies have slick product placement. 

4-Get Your Walk On by Xzibit
-The "Pimp My Ride" star showing why he is a double threat with these gems.  

"I can drink a whole Henessy 5th 
some call that a problem but I call it a gift"



3.-Break Up by Lil Wayne
-There could be an entire list of Lil Wayne verses. And before anyone gets the wrong idea, I could point out maybe 100 creative, clever, and expert rhymes. But that's not the purpose of this blog, so for now enjoy one of his classics where towards the end, Weezy lets you know just where his mind is at when he is rapping.

"nice tires on my 'ghini
you should wanna king me
brain dead flow
vegetable zucchini"



2. Black Dreams by Young Jeezy
        -No doubt rap fans knew this was coming, but since most of my blog traffic is made up of lesbian-folk appreciators, this one deserved a spot. I love Young Jeezy and hardly anyone has a cooler sounding voice in rap. Nevertheless, that makes it all the more hilarious when he busts out this INSTANT CLASSIC

"Mafia B*tch, I'm in the mafia
holla at your boy, I can do a lot for ya
speakin my language if you talking bout Tilapia" 






1. Ayy Ladies by Travis Porter featuring Tyga 
-Where have all the rockstars gone? You'll have a tough time finding dudes who rock like Travis Porter does nowadays. These dudes are the greatest and chock full of great rhymes, but the funniest line from their smash "Ayy Ladies" actually comes from the mind of featured guest, Tyga. 

"man I wouldn't shake his hand with a broke hand"



         There is beauty in simplicity and much like Keats wrote, "a thing of beauty is a joy forever." 

          In conclusion, we can make fun of rap all we want; and certainly to hear tough dudes talking about tilapia, it should be well-deserved. But perhaps the goal sometimes is to evoke laughter. There is nothing shallow about making another person see the lightness of their light's heavy lifting. There is nothing deeper than bringing a smile to another's face. 

          There is far too much emphasis placed on music "meaning something." So much emphasis in fact, that I've seen artists spend more time trying to "mean something" than "being someone" or even simply just "being." More people need to be true to themselves in order to inspire genuine authenticity in a world where, although authenticity is praised, it is too much effort for most people.
    
          The race to be the next Bob Dylan is really more of a pissing contest to be perceived as such. 

          The race should be more of trot, against no one besides yourself. You should be stopping to smell the flowers, stopping to pick up other people's miller lite cans (why are there always so many of these on the ground?), and perhaps you should be stopping to smile and chuckle. You should respect and admire that which and whom makes you laugh. 

          And after this race, make sure you eat some Tilapia!

rap on maine,
benjamin  





Thursday, February 20, 2014

SESH BRO


          Lately my musical life has been mainly focused on practicing singing like a madman, teaching my awesome students, or recording sessions. 

Will Dollinger took this photo

           My recording history has been pretty consistent for a while with a HUGE spike in work last winter. I was blessed with a fantastic opportunity to learn a lot in a short period of time. My musicianship improved beyond measure, and thankfully so did my social skills as a collaborator. You just had to go in there and do your thing, no matter what malfunctioned. It truly helped me learn how to believe in myself. 

           A lot of people tell me that they dig how I smile for most of the time of perform. It's because the performance is the culmination of a lot of hard work practicing and studying. It truly is a reward, and its so fun to experience the power of rhythm in harmony with a big group of people. I don't really agree with most kinds of people on most kinds of things; but on this, we are together one. It's really fun for me, so I act a fool and goober up. This is what we call natural expression. 



           But having a recording session feels far more consequential. This is the chance to go inward and confront myself as a musician. Think of it as a phycological analysis almost, where I am in the chair and on the sofa. And sometimes both of us indulge in cigars. 

           Recording music has always reminded me of leaving little flakes of my soul in the past to be experienced new again in the future. It is my chance to make a resounding impact on people with no histrionics, just music. Just my expression. This is a fairly deep connection, and although not a true connection in reality, it is pure. 

          Of course I still maintain a joyous attitude because recording sessions are, for the most part, collaboration sessions. It's a mistake to really take group work too far beyond this fact, I believe. Relationships are collaboration sessions, and if you are a good collaborator, it is far easier to do anything. 

          In truth, I approach recording with a bit more fear, because your true expression and ability is often under a microscope with a bias lens. Fear is simply switched with excitement, and I'm ready with my senses heightened. Because of this, I probably tend to take a bit more of a spiritual approach. As such, I really like to have a routine to how I get ready and set everything up. The French call this "mise en place." 

          "Mise en Bass" seems more appropriate for our purposes. Try out your own pun. 

          I like doing certain things the same way; like an archer hitting his mark or a surgeon arranging his materials before a bypass. There is no better feeling to me than doing things in an easy order to ramp up. Do it right; right makes light. 

          The chord charts get made the same way. The cables are un-coiled in the same fashion. I even find myself taking the same amount of coffee sips between each prepared activity. I can notice all these things easily because I do them the same way each time; it really helps assuage my body and mind to notice all the new details much more easily as well. Eventually it, or you, is all there. 

          Perhaps this is why recording feels like leaving parts of my soul behind. More than a snapshot of who I am in a precise moment of time, recorded baselines are pristine conservations of who I am exactly then in a way that is indescribable by words. You can only access that way thru using your ears, using your mind, and using your heart. All at once. 

       off to leave musical dandruff that even head n shoulders couldn't help with,
benjamin 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Sit Back, Relax, and Enjoy Your Excitement

          I wanted to write a blog about how to enjoy our own excitement. Hopefully it would help me work thru some issues I have pertaining to why my stomach ties up in paralyzing knots when I'm to do basically anything besides performing or playing music. Whenever I'm engaged in one of those activities, my nerves are still there, but they only feel intensified towards my goal. Things feel stronger; I feel things more strongly; I feel stronger, in all ways of interpretation.



          From all my lessons in music from my many excellent teachers, it has been revealed to me that when we are afraid, we are simply experiencing a sensation that really is excitement. Even this simple reframing did wonders for me. Performing and playing music always seemed to feel good, even before I was particularly good at it. Some of others aspects of my life, however, hardly ever seemed to feel good. Like figuring out how to work an entertainment system...



          This is obviously something that everyone experiences; self-doubt, being unsure. This is the natural experience that some of us have to moments of importance or greatness. I was an absolute mess as a test taker; I still am. Last year, when I reenrolled in university to complete my math requirement, I lost sleep constantly on nights before tests. It's unfortunate, however, that so many people equate moments of nervousness before great events as crippling anxieties. This is quintessentially having someone judge you according to a strict criteria. Fortunately for me, playing bass cannot be judged according to a strict criteria.

          Fortunately for us, life cannot be judged that way either. If we can learn to appreciate and even love our fear, it can be channeled towards our heightened selves. Like preworkout.

          Great events are opportunities to be great; we all know this. But nervousness is our body revealing to itself that is it ready to be great. These nervous feelings leave us excited, which is anticipation to be at the state of a most heightened awareness. I write a lot about being mindful and being in the moment; this is exactly what excitement precludes, if we let it. If we let our energy flow thru, it can fill us with the right stuff for what is to come. I believe that our body intelligence surpasses that of our mind's and in this case, I believe we should trust our bodies.

          When I think of my greatest moments, there are always sickening moments of nervousness followed by my follow thru. And with practice it has become a habit loop for me; feel nervous, enjoy it, feel relaxed, feel heightened.



           It all comes back to reacting to what our bodies tells us. We cannot ignore how feel beneath the surface, because this can be our greatest indicator. Like every other positive lesson I glean, I am much better at taking advantage of these feelings in my musical life. Nevertheless, I am striving towards responding to that sickly nervous feeling in my stomach with feelings of love and readiness. Bring it on.


          always keep turning up,
benjamin



Tuesday, January 28, 2014

With a Steady Hand


       One of my favorite teachers once told me that making music was akin to being as furious as you’ve ever been and at the same time being more exuberant than ever before while carrying a mug of hot and piping tea across the room. Whew. 

Knowing myself, this is a recipe for disaster. As you can see from this picture, I can't even keep the blood of my enemies on the bone. Okay fine; its strawberry wings sauce from Jack's Pizza. But it's still messy!



Making music, however, is important to me, and as such, I always feel the need to confront myself and make the improvements and adjustments that I know I can will myself towards. I’m not really satisfied with quitting when the right notes are hard to find. I’ll never go down without a fight, essentially. This music thing is really more about self-discovery and progression than it is about songs. 

How do we keep a clear and focused mind when our emotions are anything but? To which side of the emotional scale do we tend towards throughout the day? To what do we give in and feed? And, how are we supposed to carry some hot tea across a room during all this?  

This answer is as easy as you can imagine in theory and as difficult as anything else in practice. We carry the mug with a steady hand. 

When making music, it is important to remain steady. We have to be of balanced mind and balanced breath in order to account and be prepared for all the nuances of performance. Certainly we can all recall how hyper-exaggerated all of our senses are during a performance; we truly seem to notice more, and we do. This “more” can be more of a distraction if you can’t keep a steady heart during the process, after, and before. 

A lot of musicians have some sort of ritual to help them prepare for the show. Anything works, as long as it helps you settle in to your environment without being dull. You can be sharp and steady; be ready. My whole musical life is made up of rituals. Some notable ones…

1. Basketball Jerseys 




2. Scarfs 

3. Clapping with a metronome before a show with my eyes closed. No pictures of that holy place. 
4. Dancing


5. Sneakers/Sneakerz



These are all ways that I help prepare and keep my mind and heart steady. You would have to experiment with something that works for you. Obviously my little tricks tend to be kind of silly; that's because I'm a silly person if you haven't figured that out.

        Of course it is very important to have your life steady in order to be steady in your music. The synthesis of life and music happens at the exact same point. There is no single correlation. It is all the same. 

The following three tips I’ve learned regarding steadiness have really helped me conquer what I would have referred to as some sort of psychotic imbalance between my brain and reality. This can be fun to experience sometimes, but isn’t the best mindset for creating music with others.

Physical Steadiness: Don’t Be Afraid to Move
A lot of people will tell you that your body reflects your mind. While this is true sometimes, it is dumb to make generalizations about our own bodies. Only our brain is capable of putting our bodies’ thoughts into the English language for us to understand in that way; as such, it becomes a very confusing game of telephone. 
        Life is extremely dynamic; it is also, as I keep mentioning somewhat morbidly, transient and over very quickly if we are lucky and even quicker if we aren’t. Life moves constantly; like water, it crashes over pebbles and plants. It comes out on the other side in different ways, but always returns to the steady flow of the water cycle. We can learn so much about playing the bass from water. 

        Let your body move and let it breath. Don’t be afraid to dance and don’t be afraid to clap your hands. Even bouncing my shoulders to the beat can sometimes steady my proverbial hand for the rest of a performance. We must never be too attached to any one position; we must only be attached to the dynamics and ever-changing position of life. 

Generate Your Finger Strength From Your Hand: It All Comes From Somewhere
As musicians, we tend to put so much emphasis on our fingers; their precision, their strength, their endurance. We tense up our fingers so much to hold on to the music that we want to love so much. Obviously your finger strength is valuable as a musician, but where does it come from? The muscle fibers in your finger receive some help generating power from your hand; your hand from your forearm; your forearm from your shoulder blade; your shoulder blade from your core, etc. 

We cannot emphasize one part of our body as the reason for music. Music would exist if we did or not; so it is important to understand this vitality of influence from sources you’d never expect. 

This way, we don’t depend wholly on our fingers to create music. We don’t depend on anything other than faith that the music will be there. 

Give Your Brain Breaks: We Aren’t Machines 
I’ve been trying for a few years, but the reality of life is that I will never become a machine. No matter how much time I spend clapping quarter notes on a metronome; no matter how many days I spend with routine after routine; it has no effect on the fact that some days I am in it and some days I am not. And, if I’m being honest with myself, I am in and out of it constantly all the time on every day. 

The reality of having a steady hand is that it won’t always be steady. So sometimes, instead of spilling the tea all over the carpet, we should just leave it on the counter for a while. 

It is very difficult for me to take breaks while practicing, but every 45 minutes seems to have become a popular idiom for myself. In addition to giving my body and mind time to unwind and recharge, these forced breaks have taught me a thing or two about restraint, which is an area of life that I know is one of the many secrets to being helpful and being happy. 

It is impossible to be perfect; but we can always be close by striving in the right direction. True musicianship comes from honoring your discipline, your influences, your spontaneity, your training, your creativity, your life experiences, your impulses, etc. It comes from a myriad of resources and, when we combine those resources with all those other factors of a day to day life, it came become confusing.

Breathe, dance, and throw on a basketball jersey. If we curate a healthy mind and body thru exercise (on both ends...running and reading. and lifting), we can have the steadiest hand in the room. 

And sometimes we are going to spill the tea. I spilled a lot on myself this morning, which is what prompting me to write this. But fortunately, unlike tea, you can always pick up the compounds of music and make something beautifully expressive. 


slow and steady plays the bass,
Benjamin Ryan Williams 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Always Keep Your Heart Open


There are a great many number of things that a young bass player can learn to improve his playing. He or she can learn about the importance of having backup strings, or the about the pertinence of adequate preparation. He or she can be told about the value of practicing with a metronome, and how sometimes meandering around in the scale is better than playing the scale from top to bottom. The information out there that can help one learn how to play bass better is limitless and infinite. Everything is already out there; even that which hasn’t been discovered yet.

To me, today, the most important lesson to young and old bassists alike is to always keep your heart open.


Before we should sit down to play, it would always behoove us to tune our instrument. On some level this means to make sure our 4 strings are tuned to E, A, D, G (if we are in standard tuning). On another level this means to attune ourselves to our particular environment. If we are playing a fancy party, it might help to appreciate what that means and how that is precisely unique from a frat party. On another level, this tuning our instrument means to check and see how the ultimate instrument, our heart, is doing.

I have to credit Madeline Bruser with helping me appreciate this tuning of the heart. I simply thought that sometimes the music flowed with truth and other times I had to force it. I never knew that this act of opening your heart can be made easy with some concrete steps of vigilant effort.

So how do we tune our hearts to be open? For me, the first step is accepting the vulnerability of the moment. Music has always been so amazing to me because I understand the transient nature of each performance; of each chord; of each single beat. Here one minute, the next gone. This is the reality of music and this is even the reality of all things. Nothing lasts forever. This is a crushing concept to think about before playing music, but this is also incredible hopeful because each mistake doesn’t nearly matter as much as you’d think. And, if nothing lasts forever, then the only solution is to appreciate whatever is happening currently with all of your heart.


The next step is to
be thankful for the opportunity in front of you. I could have been hardly more lucky so far in my career as a musician, and any chance I get to strap on my bass and jam out is unbelievable. But even if you are only playing in your bedroom at home, think about the amazing opportunities you have compared to people in destitute countries. Think about the amazing opportunities you have compared to people in the past. Many people have been jailed for practicing and performing music throughout time’s story. Here we are with the opportunity to be a part of that without the strife. This is an amazing feeling.

Again, recall step one and accept this moment’s vulnerable demeanor. Perhaps I will wake up tomorrow unable to move my fingers. This thought makes me sad, but it opens my heart to appreciating the opportunity to move my fingers today with precision and power.


When we reflect on the preciousness of all in our lives, our hearts warm and vital energy flows thru our bodies and our minds. The heart is open and, much like the bass itself, adds harmony and texture to every other physical and mental aspect of our bodies.

Finally, we have step 3, which is to consider the frame. Music is not performed in a vacuum; it is played in a hall; it is played in the state of Georgia; it is played on the earth; it is played in the year 2014; it is played to people who have had different days; it is played in a town where their football team with high expectations didn’t perform well; it is played by us, who sometimes have vastly different days.

We must be observant and consider the frame of our performance. Our heart will be attuned towards sympathy and empathy to all aspects that participate in the performance, of which there may be infinite outside influences. Although we can do nothing to control those aforementioned influences, we can accept them and thank them and consider them. They are there and so are we. Let’s be thankful.

Although none of this is truly technical advice, I believe that the musician could always benefit from remembering to always keep his or her heart open. Music is the language of the heart organized into mathematical patterns; it is truly communicative, but only when performed with the gusto and appreciation for the transient nature of life. Notes are here and then they aren’t. A chord is played and, while its vibrations never end, we can never keep it quite the same in our ears. It simply leaves our life. Or maybe we leave it.

This understanding of the duality between true joy and true sadness can create true music. And while exposing the heart is frightening, realize it is the only way to be the best musician you can be. 

You simply have no other choice.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Prompt 2: In The Key of Freud Major: Thoughts On Sigmund Freud's Thoughts on Music



“...with music, I am almost incapable of obtaining any pleasure. Some rationalistic, or perhaps analytic, turn of mind in me rebels against being moved by a thing without knowing why I am thus affected and what it is that affects me.”-Sigmund Freud “The Interpretation of Dreams” 1900
 It is impossible to examine any sort of philosophical cannon without reading the name Sigmund Freud short of a thousand times. Millions of people will quote his theories, treatises, and hypothesis. A vast percentage of the modernly educated will think about his dissertation of the ego vs the ID. Many scholars will explore what it is exactly Freud meant by the phrase “oceanic.” Academics will stay up late concerning themselves with his idea of penis envy (and maybe actual penis envy). Thousands upon thousands of papers are written on his musings every year, this one being no exception. Sigmund Freud essentially set the standard for our conception of what a modern day philosopher or thinker talks about, writes about, and looks like. He is a benchmark figure; the picture that pops up in the dictionary.  


          
         It is of no coincidence that Freud is such a popular thinker nowadays. Although he has been dead for some 70 plus years, Freud created a spark in rational thought that both angers and supports the opinions, discussions, beliefs, and even faiths of many. Many of his theories, including some mentioned earlier but certainly not limited to them, have become popular enough to become sort of pop-culture facts. Freud’s philosophical work is some of the most complex and seemingly truthful of any somewhat modern day thinker. You can’t think philosophy without thinking Freud whilst picturing him with a cigar. He seemed cold and calculated; unafraid of anything that he might encounter.
          
         Why then, does Freud have such a well-documented aversion to music? 
          
          Music is something so touching; a force so powerful that we could write and talk about it all day. We often do, in fact. Many philosophers of great credit spent a large majority of their lives discussing and writing about music. Many of them were in fact musicians themselves. If philosophy is the study of the fundamental problems, such as why and what is the purpose of anything, surely then it would seek to understand the importance of music? Something that can unite millions of people around the world despite language, experience, financial, religious, and even physical barriers has to be worth the examination of all minds, not only the supposed great ones. One could never argue that music isn’t important to humanity; it is simply a huge force that, while unnatural when commanded by individuals, does exist within nature. In fact, it seems that music has been around as long as anything, even our own concept of humanity and society in general.
          
          Nevertheless, music is such an opaque concept that even the best minds often fall short of explaining it well in any sort of technical language. There are thousands of musical geniuses out there who lecture and write. They may have beautiful things to say, engaging points, and excellent rhetoric. However, no single “theory of why music makes us feel the way it does” has ever truly been accepted as cold hard fact. 

          While we can examine the nuts and bolts of a piece of music, we cannot explain how these nuts and bolts make a piece a great and, likewise, how these nuts and bolts might make something not so great. There is a technical language of music; a rich vernacular that can be studied forever and yet truly never understood. The great composer/conductor/educator Leonard Bernstein perhaps put it best when he stated that “the only way one can really say anything about music is to write music.” 

We can’t sum up music in this sentence or the next. Even this page, or the next several thousand pages, would completely fail to define the reason for the might of music. But it is impossible to ignore it as a force in society. It is impossible to ignore the role of music in shaping our past, and this past is directly responsible for the future. It is also impossible to see the role of music in the future, but we can be assured by our connection to it that it shall be powerful. 


And yet, despite our obvious infatuation or even obsession with music, Freud doesn’t like to talk about it. There are a great many subjects that are considered taboo and he touched upon all them. He is infamous for popularizing the Oedipus Complex, a theory that postulates men are jealous of their fathers and sexually enamored with their mothers. This is obviously a pretty radical theory, yet he shies away from discussing music. It is interesting to note, as well, that Freud lived during one of music’s most romanticized periods; one would think or even expect Freud to champion music as of the great arts, especially due to his love of many other artistic mediums. Why leave music out, then? Perhaps because he admits to not truly understanding it and therefore doesn’t seek to make any theories or comments. You cannot blame a man for that which he doesn’t know, so long as he remains quiet with an unbiased opinion on the subject.  

But Freud clearly has an opinion on music. Freud states that being a “rationalistic” or “analytic” makes him “rebel against being moved by a thing without knowing why I am thus affected what it is that affects me.” This is a dense thought, worth examining with a fine comb or even an analytical microscope. Firstly, Freud claims to use a rational and logical approach to push him towards a contrarian viewpoint on music. This idea of being a contrarian is not uncommon for Freud, as a lot of his viewpoints were unpopular at the time and even now. What is most interesting to me regarding these terms, is that we would be able to deduce and infer that Freud believes music to be something that cannot be explained rationally and with analytics. This sounds a lot more like Leonard Bernstein than we may have originally considered, given Bernstein’s love of music and Freud’s apparent distrust.

A lot of people, both academics and the laymen, like to compare music and mathematics. While that is a discussion for another paper in another lifetime, it is interesting to note that Freud feels appreciating music comes before rational and analytical thinking and/or criticism. Although it is unwise to ignore the connections between the field of math and the field of music, it is interesting to note that Freud almost deems music as being unworldly and unexplainable. Although it seems Freud took this to be a negative cloud that follows pieces of music around, I would argue that many people might agree with Freud on his concept by not his application. Most people have an experienced where, for any amount of reasons, they are moved to tears by a piece of music. Many people have also experienced a time when they were jubilant and joyous upon hearing specific chords played with a certain dynamic. There are myriad reasons for experiencing emotions, but sometimes we lack the technical language or even the wherewithal to understand appreciate why. Freud realized this concerning music; and while it seemed to have scared him, this exact same thought process seems to have excited millions. 

Now let’s examine the second part of his quote, that which states Freud needs to react harshly towards music because it moves him in a way that he cannot explain or even internally understand. This idea of fearing the unknown is a pretty common phobia for most people. Think back to a time when you saw a child afraid of the dark; or perhaps think back to a time when as an adult you feared for future circumstances that you did not even know existed. This anxiety of the unknown exists within all of us. For Freud, an examiner of the mind, this must have been atrocious and horrendous. For someone so used to understanding why we feel some of our more basic impulses, Freud could never quite put his finger (or cigar, for that matter) on what it is about music that makes us feel certain things. He knew and appreciated the power of music and its forces, but he couldn’t explain it. This, much like a child’s fear of the dark when he or she goes to bed, is just simply fear of the unknown. 

Here exists the central lesson of this prompt. There are a myriad of reasons why music moves us. We could write thousands upon thousands of essays concerning the “whys” of music’s emotional process without repeating a single thought or idea. Nevertheless, I cannot help but feel the weight of this idea that Freud may have accidently discovered. Perhaps we are so brilliantly moved by music because we do not understand it. In a world where knowledge is seemingly everywhere for the taking, even more numerous than trees in a forest, the idea that we cannot fully understand something might be as magical to some as it is scary. Although we certainly fear that which we do not know, it can also be exciting. We love horror movies and roller coasters, despite the fear and apprehensive atmosphere they can cause. Of course we like music because it moves us to a point where we don’t understand it. When you don’t understand something, you take it at once, for what it is; the sum of its parts. If we understood every little thing about why music makes us feel the way it does, it would probably cease to make us feel anything. It would simply become a mastered system, when in fact, we know it to be the exact opposite; an almost life force than can move mountains. We often use the terms of music to understand life and its processes. If this is true, we can learn a lot from realizing that we can love the unknown. It’s important to appreciate and feel that which may cause some stress. Sometimes, its important to feel powerless.

Freud may not have loved music for this reason; a man who spent his whole life trying to understand the “why” could never be fully satisfied until he knew the answer to everything. But let us, for a minute, appreciate the significance that one of the world’s greatest thinkers may have been stumped by music. Music; something that we all feel and experience deep within our souls. Music; something that we all almost feel connects us to the universe. Music; something that we cannot possibly explain with any degree of certainty. We can use all sorts of technical language and run all sorts of brain monitoring tests; in the future perhaps, we can find a way to fully grasp the why.

Music is something we should always seek to understand, but ultimately always understand that we’ll never fully get it. 

PS: I adopted my ultimate Freud look for this prompt. What do ya think?