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Music, Words and Art

March 21, 2017

The Universal Voices of Humanity, a Communication Triumvirate

It always seems to be the simplest, least-prepossessing things that are actually much larger than themselves. Thoughts are uppermost on this list, such as we are able to communicate to each other. Monumental concepts are often revealed in small, humble sentences.

For example, I recently read an interview of author Vaddey Ratner on Shelf Awareness/Maximum Shelf. Ms. Ratner writes critically acclaimed novels/fictionalized histories, surrounding a small group of Cambodian refugees who fled the Khmer Rouge many decades ago. One of the main themes of her latest book, “Music of the Ghosts” (Touchstone; release date 04/11/2017), involves the cultural and spiritual significance of music in Cambodian life. Ms. Ratner lamented that modern-day Cambodians have lost much of that deep personal connection to music. Her assessment of the inherent value of music stunned me:
“When words fail, music is our other voice.”

Such a simple concept, so apt. It was a statement of the taken-for-granted-mostly-forgotten obvious. It was a powerful comment on human communication. The visual artist in me, however, wanted to amend it ever so slightly: “When words and images fail…” Think about it.

Vocalizations were the precursors to basic image-making. Words and music had to evolve over many lifetimes to become the rich, divergent expressers of our thoughts, as did our ability to make visual art. The old adage “A picture is worth a thousand words” reminds us that as vast as our modern vocabularies are, there are still numerous concepts beyond their ability to describe.

And while art may elicit a wealth of emotional response beyond words, music is capable of generating perhaps even more feelings in a way that transcends the boundaries of time, geography, culture, religion, and gender. Music becomes, by default, the universal communicator – “our other voice.”

I have not read Ms. Ratner’s books, but I certainly intend to do so. And I intend to keep improving my communications, whether with words, visual images, or music. We all should.

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