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The Big Picture

detail of a rendered wall in sunlight and shadow

Music: what's it all about?

Music … is about time, about rhythm, about the placement of notes in time.

But music is also – always – a human endeavour, and so it is also about how we place ourselves in time as human beings, on the most intimate and basic level: the steady pace of our walk, the ebbing and flowing beat of our heart, the erratic accelerandos and rallentandos of our love-making.

And then there is the rhythm of the human world – an axe, a scraper, a loom – as we impose our will on nature and exert ourselves against entropy. And, of course, latterly there are the rhythms of the mechanical, as we are freed from the quotidian to be enslaved by the clock.

Tick-tock goes the metronome.

But there is more.

As well as time, there is space. And just as we orient ourselves in the world by using our senses to create a model, so we negotiate with music: this note is higher, this is lower, this is louder, this is softer.

In this way we take our measure of music – of pitch and amplitude and tone – and we do what humans do best: we spot patterns, we group things together, we compare and we assign value – and even meaning.

And just as we live together in a society, so too the notes have relationships – some bitter and some felicitous – and we exercise our emotional discrimination in savouring the consonances and dissonances and eventually creating our own relationship with the music. We laugh, we dance, we cry and we remember.

Music gives structure to our everyday tasks – to cooking and cleaning, to walking and driving. And it helps to bring cohesion to our social gatherings – from muzak in the restaurant to the dance-floor to the wedding or funeral march – as we are brought together by our intersection in the music, by our common human responses.

Music … is pattern and emotion in time. It is a meeting place for us all.

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