The Gustavian Weekly

The sound of reflections | The Gustavian Weekly

By Olivia Karns Commentary Editor | October 29, 2010 | Opinion

There are many actions in human nature that are simply a knee jerk response to stimulus. Sometimes I feel like it could be so easy to go through the day on autopilot; eating when I was hungry, sleeping when I was sleepy or even just dealing with the simple problems at hand.

And yet, I always find that such mental passivity is impossible. There are always a few things which easily whisk us out of such torpor and force us, even unconsciously, to reflect and to dream. I think that music, no matter what genre, lifts people mentally out of any sort of routine thought and moves them to consider desires, beliefs and beauty.

Music reaches the soul in a way that simple words, either written or spoken, cannot. The history of the Gregorian chant is an interesting symbol of the power of music over language. The Gregorian chant is a liturgical chant and symbol of the Roman Catholic Church dating back to the sixth century A.D.

One of the main purposes of the chant was to communicate a message of hope in faith. During the Middle Ages, the spoken word was an insufficient vehicle for this message due to the acoustics of the cathedrals that gave way to a lot of echoes. The chant allowed for words to be spoken slowly enough to allow for clear mental comprehension, and the music provoked a greater sense of beauty and reflection. For those who have never heard the chant, I would recommend an instant YouTube session.

I love to watch toddlers listen to music. Even at an age when a person is too young to really question, and certainly too young to reflect, music inspires. If there is a discernable beat, toddlers rise to their wobbly, dimpled legs and bob up and down to the music. This dance is inevitably a dance of joy, as small white teeth are flashed jubilantly in those little open mouths. I think that this is an example the ways music can inspire a moment of bliss … or blissful unawareness. A beat can cause people to move in a way they had never thought to move in their life and may perhaps never wish to move again.  But, in that moment, music causes an unconscious action of elation.

I often wonder whether or not I have a soul. If I’m honest, I am probably one of many average college students who are questioning religion but hoping for some kind of divine. Yet, even on my most cynical days, music makes me feel as if I have a soul. I couldn’t tell you if the soul is immortal or if it originated with God, but I believe it is there. It’s the part of me that is beyond the elicited response to biological stimulus. Through things like music, I can begin to understand it. I believe the soul is the part of me that can recognize humanity in art and hear and appreciate music.

Music, throughout history, has been an integral part of any culture. It expresses celebration or grief or awe—it succeeds where words fail. Whatever genre, time or place, music has an effect on people. Music helps us to experience our own feelings, realize desires, question motives and ultimately grow a little closer to recognizing our own identity and surroundings.