Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Little Bird in a Gilded Cage

Language is the collection of symbols and sounds used to convey meaning from person to person, whether it be written or spoken. English, Hebrew, Japanese, and all such linguistic codes are one kind of language, a language of cultures, but there are other, more subtle uses of language. Calculus is a language, using the complexity of numerals, integrals and differential equations to convey the concepts of fractals, imaginary numbers, and the splendor of the Mandlebrot set. Art is a language, and perhaps one of the most controversial, speaking across political and social boundaries. Likewise, music is a language, a language of notes, phrases, beauty and silence, which conveys messages, stories, and knowledge. Music is a powerful language and the most profound of all musical dialects is the singing gesture, in which the human body is the instrument. Vocal music is the language of the unbiased soul in the body, the expression of the self as an instrument of beauty. When one sings, it is the heart and the mind, not the society, not politics nor religion, gender or race which phonates the air and spins the currents of sound to reach far off and distant ears, to touch hearts and move minds. Peoples of completely different backgrounds, ethnic boundaries and cultures may be bound together in the magic of O la che buon Echo, or swept together in the sorrow exuding from Bach's Cantata 106. The pure grandeur of Beethoven's Choral Fantasia elevates all to new heights of majesty, while the simplicity of Gregorian chant has served for thousands of years as a bridge to the divine. The Ragas of India serve in like manner for all its many cultures, whether Sikh, Muslim, or Hindu, as prayers of beauty and encompassing truth. Thus, it is that the language of vocal music crosses the boundaries between peoples of different ethnicities. Vocal music can create a shared experience among persons by nature of the universality of its emotive prowess, such as in Nobuo Uematsu's The Promised Land. Vocal music can also cross ethnic lines by nature of its commonality, such as in folk or popular songs. Lastly, vocal music can bring differing ethnicities together through the power of assembly in the form of a choir.
Music has been an integral expression of man's nature since ancient times. Indeed, one source claims that “In all probability, man was gifted primevally and throughout an endless span of time with a singing voice which he possessed long before he was able to speak” (Husler 214). Singing, therefore, is a natural and integral form of human communication. Vocal music crosses the boundaries between peoples of different ethnicities by nature of it's emotive prowess, tapping into the complex emotional subconscious of both singer and listener. What music communicates between persons delves deep into the secret resources of the heart and conveys intimate feelings and ideas of such concepts as life, death, love, and beauty. A Requiem is a mass for the dead, a treatise to the awe and fear man has held for death over the centuries. It is a shared fear or the unknown, a common fact that man must die, no matter who or what he is. Bach's Cantata 106, a requiem cantata, gravely states “Es ist die alte Bund, Mensch, du must sterben.” It is the Fate of everything, man you must die! How sharply this contrasts to the In Paradisum, the seventh movement of the Faure Requiem. The listener is raised to new heights of hope with the soaring, angelic soprano line, and one cannot cling to the hope of eternal life. All men and women must interract with the questions which good music confront them with as universal dilemas of life, death, sin and redemption, regardless of age, sex, or race.Music demands of man his subjectivity, sweeping him along into realms of feeling inside his person that he cannot escape. Vocal music connects with man on an intimate level, even moreso then instrumental music can because of the integral nature of the vocal mechanism to the person. The very human body is the instrument which creates beauty in this situation, and thus it is the human person, body as well as soul, which is active in the creation of Beauty. When one listens to a vocal performance, whether in a concert hall or in a church, they are sharing an experience with every person in that concert hall. Every performer and every listener is swept together in the intricate, emotive harmonies of Whitacre, the splendorous magnitude of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, or brought to tears of mourning at the tender, heart-broken conclusion of David's Lamentation. Through the common experience of emotion in great works of beauty, vocal music tears down walls between individuals, stripping the heart bare in the seizure of objectivity. Person to person, the human soul is all that is left once creed, dress, culture and background have been washed away in the rush of emotion which vocal music demands of its listeners. The emotional prowess of vocal music creates a common experience for all who listen and thus, the language of vocal music crosses the boundaries between peoples of differing ethnicities.
The foundations of high culture rest on the cultivation of the aesthetic, a vital part of which is the growth and cultivation of music. Indeed, no culture would be complete without musical identity and every people, race and nationality expresses their unique characteristics through music.Vocal music, being the simplist form of musical expression for humans, has had a leading role in captivating the sensibilities of cultures around the world. Thus vocal music dispells racial boundaries by nature of its commonality in culture.Der Erlkönig by Schubert is a prime example of the German aesthetic. It conveys not only the terror that one feels at the approach of Der Erlkönig, or Death, for the little boy, but also the German romantic sensibilities and nationalistic poetry, in this case Goethe. Through der Erlkönig, a piece of Germany is presented for those who wish to listen and hear the sounds of pounding hooves and terrified cries, the passion of German Romanticism.Likewise, the music of A. R. Rahman convays beautifly the voice of the Indian people. In his vocal pieces, one can smell the spices on the air, see the lush green of the Indian forests or the barrenness of the Indian deserts, and drift within the swirling, smoky tendrils of the sensuous musical lines of the singers. The folk music of country villages and the pop songs of modern metropolises also tell the story of the peoples who sing them. The songs of peoples are a voice crying out for those who would stop and listen, hearing the thoughts and hearts of a race in the gentle, angry, sorrowful or joyful swell of sound. Vocal music is a window into the hearts of nations and cultures across the globe, and thus, a method of communication between peoples of different ethnicities or racial backgrounds. Vocal music crosses bariars wetween peoples of different ethnicities due to the intimate position it holds in cultural identity across space and time.
The concept of man as an image of the Living God does not leave the expression of the aesthetic to the individual, but demands more. Just as God exists in an eternal community of three persons, thus, to be a true expression of the goal of human existence, singing must be a communial expression. Choirs are the collaborative efforts of individuals working together as one voice, creating a community between the individuals, but also between all the cultures of the individuals in the choir. Vocal music brings different ethnicities together through the power of assembly, in which all different backgrounds and cultures must come together and make music. The Agape Choir is one such example. Consisting of men and women from all different races and backgrounds, their mission is to spread the message of peace to all races and countries. Their brightly colored costumes and expressive performance style convey their philosophy that all colors and shapes, all men and women, no matter where one comes from singing brings people together in the creation of beauty. In like manner, choirs can also serve as a method for spreading understanding and peaceful intentions across races. One such example is a youth chorale in Lebannon. The choir was made up of both Jewish and Muslim boys, who through their communal offering of beauty were able to make peace between their warring parents. Likewise, many cultural festivals feature choirs from across the globe, as in the Cantus festivel, held in Salzburg, Austria. The David Jorlett Choralle from America, the St. Peter's Preperatory Orchestra from Australia, the Naple's Civic Orchestra from Italy, and the Verrinshav Folk choir from Latvia all lent their instruments and voices with one accord to aid Armenia orphans. Due to the communal efforts of all the choirs and orchestras, the assembly was able to offer medical and educational supplies to impoverished children. Not only did four cultures come together to offer a common sacrifice of song, but they were able to cross another ocean, and touch the lives of the youth of a fifth race. In this way, vocal music has the ability to transcend cultural barriers through the formation of choral groups.
The human person is an entity continuously seeking to know and to make itself known, and the expression of this desire is language. Vocal music is a language which conveys the secrets of the human person in a unique and stunning way, for music takes part intimately in the expression of beauty of the natural world, and the music of the human person is the singing gesture. Because vocal music is common to all peoples, the language of vocal music destroys barriers between peoples of different ethnicities, cultures and races. Singing creates bridges between ethnicities by nature of its emotive prowess and ability to connect intimately with the individual, bonding person to person. Vocal music also destroys ethnic boundaries through the expression of cultural identities, which bring together races which would naturally be far removed from each other. Lastly, vocal music crosses barriers between races through the collaborative efforts of choirs. As a young girl once said: “you're never really a whole person if you remain silent, because there's always that one little piece inside you that wants to be spoken out”(Lorde 80). Music is a part of the human person, a part that their very bodies were meant to play and that their souls quietly yearn for. If each person does not let out that part of themselves, they are keeping bound a bird inside their hearts. However beautiful or large the cage, the hidden bird who has never seen the sun or felt the rain, never twittered its own melody, will grow gray, once bright feathers molting and shedding to litter the floor of the human heart. Singing must be a part of human interaction, for without it, an integral part of human expression is cut off. We must not be birds in cages. Humans must soar free in uncontained skies, with a song in their breast.

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