“For heights or depths no words can reach, music is the soul’s own speech.” – Anonymous
Why do I write? This is really two questions. One of them is, “Why do I communicate?”, in a general sense. The other is, “Why do I communicate in this way?” And this line of thought spawns many other questions, but they all lead back to the first two. Therefore, I’ll just start with those, in the hope that answering them, answers them all.
We communicate, quite simply, because we have something to say. Many times, it is out of practical necessity. (“Honey, can you pick up some flour on your way home from work?”) Other times, it is “small talk.” Yet other times, we attempt to influence others. And of course, there are many other reasons, too numerous to write about here. Yet all of these reasons and modes of communication share a common purpose: to forge a connection with someone else.
We communicate because we are relational creatures. Humans were simply not meant to be alone. We all feel compelled to share our thoughts, experiences, beliefs, and desires. We all possess tales to tell, and all of these aspects of ourselves feed our imaginations. An imagination is not merely an instrument. It is a world. It is, and creates, a world within itself. In this way, we all possess an inner world,1 and language is the vessel through which our inner world is shared. If an inner world exists behind a locked door, then language is its key.
Why use music?
But why do creators communicate? Because we, too, have something to say. It is a matter of necessity, but it goes beyond the practical. It is because we feel there is something we must say. Something we are meant to say. If we do not say it, we feel confined. This confinement can manifest itself emotionally as depression, frustration, anxiety, or a feeling that there is a “missing piece” in the artist’s life.
We all communicate most naturally in our native tongue. It is what we know best. We can manipulate the language as we choose, using patterns to weave nuance, metaphor, and analogy as we wish. It is the most effective means we know of to convey an aspect of our inner world to someone else, whether relaying a simple piece of information, planting an image, or expressing a raw emotion.
For an artist, this everyday language stops short. Our true native tongue is, in fact, our art, and our inner world can only be shared through this art. Many use painting, drawing, or sculpture. Others dance. Some create movies. A writer or poet, of course, uses words, but in a way that makes them dance across the page. The writer makes others see, hear, and feel what they imagine with only a well-chosen metaphor.
I, on the other hand, am not such a person. Words in social settings feel unnatural to me (although I probably hide it well). Words on a page are not my first choice, nor are they my foremost skill. My words can describe, but not often evoke imagery. They can dance around a subject, but do not dance across the page. They can help a reader to understand the subject, but they can never quite express the subject. Words, for me, are simply guides. I use them to point to something else; something that, for me, is more powerful.
My true language is music. It allows me to bypass my linguistic and social clumsiness. It does not merely allow the listener to understand a subject, but to experience it right along with me. It is breathless, yet lives, wordless, yet speaks, legless, yet dances, colorless, yet paints. For me, music encapsulates all of the other languages. For me, it is the most fundamental language of all. “For heights or depths no words can reach, music is the soul’s own speech.” The soul’s own speech. Not simply the soul of a person, but the soul of a subject. The soul of a story. The soul of an inner world.
Incidentally, this is why arts education is so critical. Improved academic performance is a wonderful side effect of it, but it is not the most important reason for teaching the arts. Artistic languages allow one to communicate deep thoughts and feelings that are otherwise inexpressible, and to connect with others on a level that is otherwise inaccessible.2 Most would agree that social skills are fundamental life skills. In this regard, artistic ability is one of the most fundamental social skills there is. To teach someone an artistic language is to open a world of wonder to them for the rest of their lives. It is to give them a powerful tool that allows them to learn about themselves and others. To deprive them of it is to deprive them of a fundamental means of communication.
Consider a leaf carried by the wind. It appears small and simple, yet houses an entire microbial world which constantly shifts and changes as the wind carries it. In the same way, the human brain appears inert, yet it sails oceans, soars among the clouds, and dances with the stars above many skies. My inner world is not a world; it is many worlds. Galaxies, universes, characters, stories. Fanciful tales, slowly told, epic journeys crossing mountains, seas, stars, worlds, empires, kings, and times. Within this small, oft timid, and socially awkward mind lies a vast expanse, bold with its ideas, gregariously soaring wherever it wishes.
When someone asks me, “Which instrument do you play?”, I answer, “Piano and trumpet,” but this is not the whole truth. Within my mind, I hear an entire orchestra. I compose for and conduct the symphony at the same time. Outwardly, I play only two instruments. With my inner orchestra, I play them all.
However, it seems quite empty to inhabit this vast expanse alone. Every orchestra needs an audience. Inner worlds are enriched through connection with other inner worlds. Indeed, my inner world is made more comforting, more vibrant, more complete, by the presence of others. This is why artists share them. This is why I share mine, and I share it in many ways. I share it through writing, to bring others to its doors. I share it through composing music, to take others on a grand tour. I share it through teaching to give others the keys to unlock their own inner worlds.
And so, my fellow traveler, I invite you to share this experience with me. I invite you to hear the symphony, and with it, to run, to sail, to soar; to laugh, to cry, to dance; to hear and to tell grand stories, to be transported across many lands. I invite you to be inspired.
I invite us all to hear, and to share, our inner orchestras.
- Why do you create?
- Has your imagination ever surprised you? How?
- How might this experience differ for someone who creates in isolation, versus someone who creates through collaboration?
- Jennifer Kunst, Ph. D. “You Have An Inner World: So What?”. Psychology Today. July 8, 2015. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/headshrinkers-guide-the-galaxy/201507/you-have-inner-world-so-what
- Karl Paulnack, 2003 Address to the Parents of the Freshman Class. August 28, 2003. https://staff.ithaca.edu/kpaulnack/transcripts/2003welcome/