29 May 2007

A Lot to Talk About: the Introduction

So, I'm munching my way through the introduction to our new Music book, and there's a lot to talk about here! Mr. Levitin starts with his own story - or rather, with the story of the book, how he came to mix science and music. Sounds like he's done some fascinating things in his time. But after he tells a little about his background, he begins drawing you into his vision. He points out the view that drew him in so compellingly that he wrote a book about it. And it is a fascinating view.

Americans spend more money on music than on sex or prescription drugs. Given this voracious consumption, I would say that most Americans qualify as expert music listeners. We have the cognitive capacity to detect wrong notes, to find music we enjoy, and to tap our feet in time with the music - an activity that involves a process of meter extraction so complected that most computers cannot do it. Why do we listen to music, and why are we willing to spend so much money on music listening? Two concert tickets can easily cost as much as a week's food allowance for a family of four, and one CD costs about the same as a work shirt, eight loaves of bread, or basic phone service for a month. (Page 7)

First of all, I find the fact that computers have such a hard time finding the beat to be fascinating! It's such an intuitive, second nature thing for me, I'd never really thought about it as a complected thing. I teach 5 year olds how to create their own beat in our piano lessons. They usually come to me more than able to bop along with the beat in our listening exercises. When I teach them about keeping a beat we talk about simple things - ticking clocks, heartbeats, that sort of thing. I've yet to come across a child who didn't pick it up quickly, although some do struggle more than others to internalize the ability to keep it consistently even and steady.

Andy and I haven't done so much concert attending lately - with regret, we've decided it's not in the budget right now. But some of our best, most memorable dates have been to either concerts, or music and dance performances such as Lord of the Dance. We counted the cost of tickets to see Kodo well spent when they came to town while we were at Purdue when we were poor college students. I'd not thought previously about the relative cost of music. Interesting.

Mr. Levitin goes on:

To ask questions about a basic, and omnipresent human ability is to implicitly ask questions about evolution. (page 7)

I think I'm going to have to disagree with the author here. I think it much more invites inquiry into the nature of God, as we are his offspring. The page and a half discussion of evolution and the emerging field of evolutionary psychology is simply irrelivant in my eyes. Fortunately it appears he doesn't linger long on the topic too much in the book.

This part I liked:

The power of music to evoke emotions is harnessed by advertising executives, filmmakers, military commanders, and mothers. ... Mothers throughout the world, as far back in time as we can imagine, have used soft singing to soothe their babies to sleep, or to distract them from something that has made him cry. (Page 9)

When so many people are running down Motherhood as an unworthy occupation, too trivial for a modern, educated woman, it pleased me to see Mothers listed in such company. I skipped some of the paragraph in which he talks about how various profession use music to tell us how to feel (because I'm typing one-handed while my baby sleeps on my lap), ending with how Moms use it to calm their children. It's probably a little off his topic, but I think Moms & other caregivers use it for much more than soothing an upset child. Music is used for learning (A, B, C, D.... Fifty nifty United States from thirteen original colonies...) and playing games (Ring around the rosie...) and providing motivation for work (say, cleaning a bathroom to William Tell or Bon Jovi) to name a few.

Your brain on music is a way to understand the deepest mysteries of human nature. That is why I wrote this book. (Page 11-12)

Big goal! I'm excited to see how he does!

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