Stuff About Music

As I mentioned in my previous post, I spent spring break in Mexico painting a church. It was more fun than I thought it would be.

Anyway, it was a fairly large group (18 people), and we were all in this one 15-seat van riding around Monterrey to various places, and we ended up listening to a bunch of music. Most of it was in Spanish, for some reason (we were in Mexico). And most of it wasn’t very good.

But spending a week listening to a bunch of music in a language I don’t know (very well) got me thinking about the nature of music in general. So here are some comments on music and music-related stuff.

Lyrics
As I’ve talked about before, I usually listen to metal of some variety (right now I’m listening to Iced Earth). I also usually look up (on darklyrics.com or some other such site) the lyrics to the song I’m listening to. When they’re in a foreign tongue, I go to Google Translator and read them in English.

The thing is, if you pay too much attention to the words… badly written lyrics can really ruin a song. There are many, many songs I’ve heard that I didn’t mind the musical aspect of, but whose lyrics were just bad.

This is, I think, one of the reasons I so dislike rap. It isn’t so much that I dislike the style (though I don’t particularly like it)… it’s that it has pretty much the worst lyrics of any genre.

I think there’s a very strong argument for not having lyrics in many songs. But the human voice is a cool-sounding instrument… I wonder: what would it be like if you have vocals but no lyrics?

Actually, this is sort of like what listening to music in another language is like. You can here the cadences of the singer’s voice, but you don’t know what he’s saying.

And so here I come back to the music we listened to on the Mexico trip. Like I said, most of it was in Spanish. I can understand Spanish, but I have to make an effort to do so – if I don’t, it sounds like gibberish. So, anyway, while listening to this music, I often found myself saying – “this isn’t all that bad, though it isn’t my favorite genre in the world”. Then, when I starting paying more attention and translating the lyrics into English, I would say – “this song is so stupid!”.

Fabricated Emotion
I’m going to go off on a tangent a bit and then come back to music.

Cistercian “prom” is a month from now, and I still haven’t decided if I want to go. The argument for it – it’s the last big social event of high school, and I have some sort of duty to go. The argument against it – first of all, it costs money. But that isn’t a dealbreaker.

The real problem I have with going is that is strikes me as an attempt to fabricate emotion. You create an event for the sole purpose of having it be important.

All ceremonial events are like this, really. Everyone goes into them expecting them to be emotional, and then, surprise, they turn out to be so…

Really, though, a lot of music is like this. It depends on the style of music, obviously, but often music is intentionally emotionally loaded. (A good example of this, I think, is how we sang Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” at Braveart last month. It was “spontaneous”, sure, but the song itself is designed to elicit that reaction. That’s not to say it wasn’t a lot of fun.)

My point isn’t this is necessarily bad… it’s just that we have to realize that this is what we’re doing. And then decide whether that’s something we want to do.

I’m still undecided.

Music and Poetry
And now one short comment, then I’m finished.

Music and poetry are obviously linked. (And if people looked at writing song lyrics as writing poetry, I bet we’d see a lot fewer badly written songs.) What I often wonder is, should I write music, or poetry? Or both?

Often I’ll write a poem and then realize that it would go well with music… the problem is, I’m lazy and I don’t feel like writing a score for a song I’ll never be able to actually hear. And most of the songs would have to be metallish, which requires guitar playing, which I cannot accomplish.

But maybe I’ll eventually actually write down a score as well as lyrics to a song… maybe.

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