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Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Power of Music. Well, mainly Piano, but you’ll see why.

 "After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music." -Aldous Huxley

When my family bought a piano when I was about 8, my mom was pretty quick to find a piano teacher and get my brothers and I in piano lessons.  She is an absolutely fabulous violinist herself, she had a good sense of the value of musical education and she made sure I had that same sense ingrained in me.  I can never ever hope to be able to repay her for those hundreds - no, probably thousands - of dollars spent on lessons throughout my childhood.  No amount of money could ever repay her for the result from those lessons.  The only reason I stopped was because my teacher moved and I don't think that the guy she passed us on to wasn't very good at teaching.   Either way, by the time Karen Stoody moved away I had developed a love and understanding of music, especially piano, that I am confident will never diminish (although I did get pretty good at a few other instruments as well in high school).

Now.  On to why I am even writing about this.  The quote I used above in that picture is worth repeating again.  "After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music."  Aldous Huxley nailed it there.  I can say way more with page of music than I can say in an hour of spoken english or in a 5000 word blog post.  So my reason behind this post?  To illustrate the power of music, but more specifically, piano.

Why piano? I'll start off with the technical side of it. Learning to play piano forms connections in the brain that no other activity - heck, no other instrument - can.  There are certain types of movements your hands will make as well as a level of hand/eye/ear coordination required that I guarantee you can't get anywhere else.  There are things you will do with your hands in Mozart's Sonata in B flat Major K333, for example, that you must be able to have a near perfect balance and control between the left and right hands, the left being hand being as easily controlled as the right hand.  When both hands work together completely independently - as well as interdependently - both sides of the brain get used to thinking that way too.

I was once teaching a piano student about music theory and bare bones of the rules behind how music is composed who said something like, "Wow, so the notes aren't all just slapped on the page in random spots?"  I explained that there is a VERY detailed, organized and even highly mathematical clockwork to the theory behind how music works.

The beauty behind it, however, comes when you can learn all the 'rules' behind music composition and then take those rules and use them and manipulate them to form an infinite variety or melodies, harmonies, textures, moods, etc.  I think it would be similar to taking the equation on a line or curve in algebra and adding variables, powers, and such as well as and tweaking the constants to make the shape of the resulting graph into an infinite variety of shapes and behaviors.  

One of the biggest technical benefits of piano is that once you understand the theoretical side clearly, there is pretty much no limit to what you can create (click here to get an idea of just how many possibilities there are).

But what does this have to do with forming those connections in the brain that I mentioned earlier?  In the above picture, imagine there's a line drawn from 'MATHEMATICS' to 'IMAGINATION', from 'SEQUENCING' to 'RHYTHM', from 'ANALYSIS' to 'DAYDREAMING' and from 'LOGIC' to 'INTUITION'.  Drawing those lines, in a manner of speaking, is what piano does to the brain.  Every time you practice scales, chords, arpeggios and other technical exercises in all keys and forms, the constant and deliberate repetition of those exercises develops your level of mental control over distinct and separate muscle movements, dynamic levels, intonation and more between the two hands.  You need an objective approach to be able to interpret many different musical concepts at once, to dissect all the notes, rhythms, intonations, dynamics, tempos and all other technical information to fit it all into a piece of music.   However, you also need a more subjective approach to have a good sense of the mood and artistry you, or the composer of the piece, are trying to create.  What little ornamentations or unwritten nuances need to be emphasized in a given piece?

The more your mind is conditioned to this type of coordination and interdependent thinking, you will find yourself applying the same concepts, eventually without even realizing it, into other aspects of your life.  You will probably find yourself able to think much more quickly and efficiently but also more accurately, critically and constructively as well, taking into consideration each different part of a situation in deep detail but also seeing how all the parts fit together to make the whole more clearly than before.
For more information on this side of the subject matter, click here or here.

I said earlier that I would make this mainly about the power of piano, but, to be fair, I can't really do justice to the non-technical, mental, emotional side of music without considering all instruments.  I'm not going to make a list of them here because I have personally had life changing lessons taught and or reaffirmed in my mind and heart by music played by too many instruments mention here.  A very short list of the music that has significantly influenced my life in any way:


Mormon Tabernacle Choir's performances of The Impossible Dream (my favorite is the one with just the Choir) and This is The Christ.


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Beethoven - The Waldstein (1st movement and 3rd movement)

[edit - also added in 2015]
O Holy Night, the way my wife sings it.
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As Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, "Those who choose, conduct, present, and accompany the music may influence the spirit of reverence in our meetings more than a speaker does" as well as "An organist who has the sensitivity to quietly play prelude music from the hymnbook tempers our feelings and causes us to go over in our minds the lyrics which teach the peaceable things of the kingdom. If we will listen, they are teaching the gospel, for the hymns of the Restoration are, in fact, a course in doctrine!".

The First Presidency has also said in the Preface of the Hymn Book, "Music has boundless powers for moving families toward greater spirituality and devotion to the gospel. Latter-day Saints should fill their homes with the sound of worthy music."

One of my favorite parts of one of my favorite movies, August Rush, also illustrates the power of music well.  The part I'll refer to is right after Wizard discovers how almost inhumanly gifted Evan is and they are just talking.

"Wizard: You know what's out there? A series of higher tones. It's arranged by nature. It's governed by the laws of physics, of the whole universe. It's an overtone, it's an energy, it's a wavelength.  And if you're not riding it, good Lord, you'll never hear it.

August: Where do you think it comes from? What I hear.

Wizard: I think it comes from all around you, really. I mean, it's -- Comes through us, some of us.  It's invisible, but -- But you feel it.

August: So only some of us can hear it?

Wizard: Only some of us are listening."

I echo that with all the enthusiasm I can summon here, ONLY SOME OF US  ARE [REALLY] LISTENING.  Music can change the heart and mind of anyone, many times whether they want it to or not.  It can be a powerful force that can change our very nature for the good, if we let it.  It can have a power over the human soul that can only come from God Himself, in all His genius design of what music is.

Before she moved, Karen gave me a little framed plaque or sign of sorts that simply has a staff with notes and clefs artistically designed as a border with a piano in the middle area and a quote that says "Long after the toys of childhood are forgotten, the gift of music will remain."  My brother Brian bought me a binder of Jon Schmidt piano sheet music for Christmas before I left for my two year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I remember as I realized what it was when I opened it, my dad, in response to the look on my face, said something along the lines of "speechless, for once!" (lol i admit he was justified in that comment).

I have treasured gifts like these to this day and have always thought of them as a reminder of what music really is to me,

A pure, constant, unchanging and unfailing source of food for the soul, love, and inspiration.