Music’s Power

Candice Prosser’s article about Queen and Brian May lifted my spirits today.  She captures in words what is nearly impossible to describe, the power of a musical moment.

Music is a drug and can therefore be dangerous. As with other drugs, it is important to consider how and for what purpose music is to be used. It can manipulate emotions in an immediate way that words and even scenery can’t do. If you ever watched that film clip – where two contrasting soundtracks accompany a seemingly innocuous park bench male- female encounter, you’ll know what I mean. When the music begins to sound foreboding, get ready to cover your eyes, lest your mind should be bombarded with yet another violent event. If on the other hand, the music continues to sound anodyne while a violent event is portrayed, you could validly condemn the production because it has neglected to include the traditional musical warning.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, musical ‘happy endings’ were mandated by the ban on minor thirds. Changes to ideas about which musical intervals were acceptable would come at a price. The audience at the first performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring reacted with mayhem to its ‘dagger-like dissonances’. Composers know how to use dissonance, and how to delay resolving it, to keep us on the edge of our seats.

A great musical performance has the power to suspend time for its audience. Savvy performers can and do exploit this power. As well, they can impart to others (audiences, students etc.) the often sensual nature of the musical experience.  Gifted musicians can either trifle with this power, or use it responsibly.  Brian May, you come across as one of Music’s gentlemen. Thank you for proving that it is possible.






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