The Feel of Music, Not The Sound

I’ve been a musician for as long as I can remember.

From learning Carnatic music as a toddler, sitting in the living room of an aunty’s house with a dog-eared Gayatri Publishing study book, with a melancholy-sounding raga box droning out my juvenile croaks masquerading as singing. Or sitting in Miss Lana’s violin lessons as an 8th grader, preparing for what seemed like the most important audition of my life. Or even now, working on bhangra fusion mixes because nothing on SoundCloud matches my odd taste in music. All of these experiences have shaped not my brain, in my opinion, but my heart. Music has taught me how to feel.

Studies everywhere tout and flout the “cognitive” effects of learning music on children, claiming that playing the violin, or the guitar, and studying to the title of prodigy is somehow responsible for restructuring the brain. I think that’s bogus, and even if these sort of claims have some merit to them, it’s minor. We have to keep in mind that the type of children who are patient enough to sit in lessons and practice for examinations are also the type of complicit angels who will spend hours doing math worksheets or winning spelling bees. Being smarter is just a positive externality generated from studying music, because it teaches rigor and discipline.

“Tiger Mom” Amy Chua wrote an entire book about how she’s raised her two daughters with ridiculous levels of strictness. No sleepovers, hours of piano practice, and militaristic academic training shaped the childhoods of her two “poster children” (a term she herself has coined). In a childhood as rigid as the Chua sisters’s, don’t you think music was an escape, or a type of solace? When these girls plunked out melodies from centuries ago, they were able to learn something they would otherwise lack — sentience. This applies to all children who are (in my opinion, inhumanely) conditioned from the womb to the tomb to be perfect. Music is often a part of their lives, and that too a very enjoyable one.

I can relate to this experience. For the first 12 years of my life, I had to sing, and sing, and sing. I was terrible at it and I hated it. My medium-pitch, boyish voice made me sound like a prepubescent lemur every time I tried to sing bhajans or ghazals. But it wasn’t the songs themselves I despised. As a child, beginning to learn about religion and culture, these tunes, albeit rough on the ears, brought me closer to God and began to close the generational gap that existed between my sister and I, and my parents.

In my junior year of high school, I had mental health issues so bad they caused me to miss 73 days of school (not all in a row, thank God). Being a teenager with poor judgement and a car bestowed upon me by my parents, instead of attending school and dealing with my issues internally, I only went to the class periods I wanted to go to. One of these was orchestra class. I’ve been playing the violin since I was 11, the piano since I was 9, and the viola since I was 14. Orchestra class has been in my life every single day since 5th grade. The routine of coming into class, unpacking my instrument, and rehearsing music seems mundane on the surface, and was anything but so.

I usually despise the music we play in class, either for its difficulty or my lack of acquired taste for classical music (despite a lifetime of listening to it. Strange, I know, for a child who was force-fed classical music for years), but what kept me interested was how the music made me feel. Here’s a kind of stupid, but relevant example from my sophomore year. There was a boy I really, really liked. With my hormonal impulses and juvenile understanding of romance, I associated the Elgar Cello Concerto (which, by the way, is a beautiful song) with him. All throughout our immature, superficial relationship lasting three months, I played the song over and over again. Then, when he left me “single” and “depressed”, the cello tune became my solace, my memory of him. I’ve seen this emotional imprinting of music in other places in my life as well.

Which leads to more ridiculous anecdotes from my less wiser times.

I really hate rap music, particularly because of the aforementioned force-feeding of music, but I love the song Low Life by future. Living in a place where Indians don’t really play sports, let alone hold captain positions on the varsity team (still don’t know how I got that one), the line “represent (expletive)…represent” for some reason, really inspired me to swim fast. I think that being a musician, I listen to that song differently from somebody who isn’t.

I might be overinterpreting, or hyperanalyzing the songs, and associating really deep emotional value to them, but it’s a nice feeling.