I know nothing about music. I can’t read music except to “hunt and peck” using my fingers to figure out F-A-C-E or E-G-B -D-F (for “Every good boy does fine”). I must look up the duration or time of each type of note as I vaguely remember. I could read music at age 8 or 9, but that ended as I will explain below.
This morning I did my walk on the Tommy Thompson trail by the sea (actually Puget Sound). It was a glorious morning with a bright sun shining over the snow-capped North Cascades to the east and the—visible—Coastal Range of British Columbia to the north. Greta, my Saint Bernard, was in puppy day care (first time in two months) so I had the freedom to not have to focus on her (keeping her from terrorizing other people with her drools). Yesterday I felt horrible and my “Update” may have reflected that, but today, I woke up feeling some better. As I started my walk, I plugged in my music player and turned up the volume. My “play list” is a diverse collection of music from almost all genres, save “gospel music,” which I don’t care for. My “shuffle” play que this morning had Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (not all of the songs on the album, but most), followed by George Gershwin‘s, Rhapsody in Blue, (which I—the musically illiterate—considers the greatest piece of music ever composed by an American). This was followed by several songs from the group FUN.’s album Some Nights. The last music, before making it back to the car, was the Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major by the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
Now, back to the reason that I never studied music. When I was 8 or 9 I did have one required, weekly music class. We were taught how to read music and basic piano. The county school music teacher called my mom (and I was the only one at my school who she did this for) and told her that I was gifted in music (my musically inclined in-laws, children, and friends are probably in disbelief at this news). I have no clue how the music teacher figured this out and I’m still convinced it was a case of mistaken identity. She insisted that my mother pinch pennies and find me a private music teacher. My mother did set me up for private piano lessons with Ms. Light, even though it was not in her budget.
This turn of events was a personal disaster. The reason was, as a boy in my red-neck area of Appalachia, if you showed interest in music, you would be taken behind CB Ayres’ old store (a derelict building across the street from our school) and someone or a group of boys would beat the shit out of you. The only exception, about having an interest in music, was if you wanted to create a garage band. That was okay just only if you couldn’t read music because “Only queers and girls can read music.”
I witnessed several boys getting the shit beat out of them. One, was called “Donkey” because they considered his IQ was the same as a donkey . . . because he has Down Syndrome. This young man had the shit beat out of him by our basketball star, not in spite of, but because he had Down Syndrome. If you were a person of color or gay, I’m sure your life would have been in serious jeopardy at our school.
But seriously, that was the reason I hated music. When I started my private music lessons, I never practiced, and I did worse on tests and performances than I could have—deliberately—so I would fail. The teacher eventually told my mother that, while I seemed to have an uncanny understanding of music, I was not motivated. She suggested that the lessons end (after about a year). Whew, I got out of music lessons prior to anyone in my class finding out.
While, sadly, I still don’t know much about music, especially music theory, I do know a lot about physics and am especially interested in things like quantum physics and string theory. I know enough about math that I’m awestruck from it. I do know a fair about writing, and I wish I knew more. I know just a little bit about visual arts. The reason I’m bringing up these other disciplines because they are all the same. They are each a simple translation of the same melodious force woven within our universe.
The Greek philosopher Pythagoras saw that numbers were the basis of everything, including music. He, while watching a blacksmith work, observed that when he struck his anvil, different notes were produced according to the weight of the hammer. Therefore, a mathematical number (in this case amount of weight of the hammer) seemed to govern musical tone. He also observed that another number (space or distance) governs the tone of a finger along the strings of a stringed instrument.
Plato further defined this relationship between math and music as he observed that there is a mathematical harmony within the universe, discoverable by math and heard through music, which transcends simple logic. To mean, it is an echo of the creator in a marvelous universe. Music is simply using a stethoscope to listen to, and to hear the harmony and order of the math of the universe.
I was completely blow away by my odd collection of music this morning. While representing profoundly different styles and instruments, they were strangely speaking the same message. The brilliance of the composer, like Gershwin, was listening to that sound and transcribing it into a menagerie of physical sounds using math (the wind instruments have their reeds or holes precisely located, the strings the same).
I have rarely felt close to God in a church and that’s no one’s fault. The one exception may be where I walked in on a pipe organ recital in Norte Dame in Paris, but that’s a high bar. I was, at the time, living as a homeless man in France and walked into the church to get out of the rain (I was sleeping on a park bench in front of the church). However, I have always felt close to God when I hear a beautiful piece of music, like this morning. It doesn’t have to be any kind of religious music. Oddly, most gospel music is the only music that makes me feel less close to God. Good art makes me sense the presence of God, like walking through a world-class museum or reading a well-written novel. Physics makes me feel much closer to God, especially the complex equations of string or super-string theory (see the photo below). Those equations scream of order in the universe, as does good music, art, writing, and conversation.
Sitting and having coffee with another human being helps me feel closer to God, one created being connecting with another in honest communications. Pretentious conversations make me feel further from God.
A Photo Connecting the Dots in the History of String Theory
In closing, I came across this interview today with the (world-famous) astrophysicist Michio Kaku, who is now making the case for God, on the same thought as I’m trying to express. It may not sound like the Christian God at this point. but it is a start.
I typed this with two hands on this, my non dialysis day. But I had to type fast and I’m sorry about any typos.