Music: A Universal Language
Music has been a part of our lives ever since we were born.
Right from when we were infants, we have heard our parents sing lullabies to us. When we were little kids, we used music as an accompaniment to singing catchy children’s rhymes, and then we danced our way through the tacky pop songs on school annual days and family functions. As we grew older, the importance of music in our lives changed. It evolved from being just a mere source of entertainment to becoming something that brings us peace and helps us escape the stark reality for a moment. Each one of us has had different notions about music. But the real question is, what exactly is music? It might not be easy to answer since each individual’s idea of music differs. For most of us, it’s nothing but a collection of sounds blended in together that convey emotion.
According to ethnomusicology, i.e., the study of music worldwide, music has four evident purposes: dance, ritual, and entertainment, personal or communal, and social cohesion. Music conveys the same message differently for different people, and there seem to be endless possibilities. It has a powerful effect on our emotions. It can make us feel empowered and sad at the same time. But, ironically, music connects all of us irrespective of our language or nationality. The world’s most incredible thing to have ever happened is the invention of music. With time music innovated within itself, but it never lost its true essence.
In recent times music’s importance has been ever-increasing. With our lives being enclosed inside the four walls of our houses and being at the mercy of technology, listening or even dancing to music has been aesthetically pleasing. Music can calm our mind and our body, it can surely help us concentrate better and be more productive. Well, productivity also depends on how immersive or creative a particular task is. A series of experiments have investigated that playing background music for assembly line workers has shown signs of increased efficiency and happiness in the workplace. The same goes when one finds themselves locked up in a creative block; an atmospheric presence of music can be the key. A few modern studies argue that it’s not the music that plays the perfect role but rather a serotine boost in our mood that pumps us up. There seems to be rather a fine line that distinguishes music from noise, and what some define noise is rather music for someone else. All of it is pretty subjective and cannot be framed into one universal definition.
But again, it’s not the same for each one of us. It can serve as a disruption, and for some, it serves as a catalyzer in speeding up tedious tasks. Even research and science have warned about how music can function as a significant distraction. While doing tasks that require a lot of focus and concentration, a piece with lyrics can be distracting, while familiar music or music without lyrics can tune out in the background. When we try to engage in writing or language tasks, multitasking might not be a great idea. Some researchers believe that listening to music during your breaks can boost your productivity more rather than playing it along with your tasks.
In this grim time of pandemics and unrest, people have started focussing more on their mental and physical well-being, and this seems to be the time when we have been on the lookout for the music that brings us peace. With time more people have started living in concrete villages, and there is a dearth of natural sounds. Thus, natural sounds these days have much to do with inner peace. Studies have shown that when people are at work focussing, they usually prefer listening to familiar songs since it lowers stress levels and gives a sense of comfort. Calming nature sounds like waves, or working in a serene environment with birds chirping around can help increase focus.
Earlier, we had talked about how music serves four different purposes. The two purposes, dance and personal or communal entertainment are based on rhythmic sounds that are roped together to form a melody for amusement and rhythmic movements. The third purpose, communication through music, is one of the most widely accepted and widespread means. Music has the power to provide comfort in certain situations where words fail to do so. The greatest example probably has to be the ‘Operas,’ where a dramatic story is conveyed through music alone. Another example has to be the ‘bush telegraph’ in Africa and some other parts of the world where slit drums and other local instruments are used to communicate to pass on messages. Situated on the north-western coast of Africa are The Canary Islands, a Spanish autonomous community. They have been using ‘Silbo’ or what we call the ‘whistling language’ to communicate amongst themselves through their high vocal cords.
The ritual purpose of music is not something new for a country like ours, where we have been reciting our holy texts through Sprechgesang, i.e., a seamless harmony between music and speech. Not only that, we continue doing so. The fourth purpose is all about how music leads to bonding, be it between a child and a mother through lullabies or be it through two strangers living solitary lives. A cohesion through similar interests leads to the social organization of societies.
Apart from serving the four primary purposes, music today serves the fifth purpose as well, being the most important one that is bringing the world closer. Today music knows no bounds to be it through the language in which it is created or through any other means. It is indeed a super spreader of raw and honest human emotions. The whole world comes closer together through innumerable international musical trends and songs. All thanks to this era of the internet. Enjoying and creating music has become an even much easier task. Music certainly has become, in its true sense, a universal language.