© Kevin Dooley

Why Music?

Most of us have heard music described as the universal language. I have heard this expression as long as I can remember and I have spent a good amount of effort trying to prove it to myself, trying to find complicated explanations for what I felt intuitively. I simultaneously struggled with a quest for an all-encompassing explanation for why music education is important.

I finally arrived at a very simple, obvious to the point of redundancy, but very deep conclusion that music is the most fundamental form of human communication. This is why we play music with others, or perform for others, or watch others perform, or even more frequently, listen to recorded music together and feel its influence on the experience being shared, either consciously or subconsciously. Even when we play or listen to music on our own, it connects us to our own experiences of human interaction. Music can affect our most complex human emotions with a directness that spoken language cannot. To share emotions through music is to empathize in the most profound way.

But the question remains, if we as humans experience the interconnecting effects of music so naturally, why do we need to study it? The answer is the same as why we study language. At the early stages, the flow of learning is mostly natural and intuitive, with babies and toddlers learning by observing the environment around them and connecting it to what their elders are saying. But we don’t stop there. We proceed to learn how to read and write in a more systematic way. And even then we don’t stop. We continue through many levels of schooling to gain instruction in reading and writing at more advanced levels in our native language, and if we haven’t already, we learn a second or third or fourth language, because this gives us the tools to connect with more people in a greater variety of circumstances. It’s important to note that we do all of this systematic, disciplined, time-consuming work not specifically because it will translate instantaneously into monetary gain, but because it will make us better suited to play a meaningful and satisfying role in society in general, in whatever specific field we pursue. Most of us are not going to become professional poets, yet we accept the value of becoming better communicators and becoming exposed to new ideas through the ability to read and write at higher levels.

If we accept all this as it relates to spoken language, why would we place any less importance on music, a form of communication even more fundamental, a form of oral and written exchange that can be created, interpreted and reproduced at infinite levels of sophistication. If the ability to exist successfully as human beings is the ability to empathize with one another in a world of complex interests and emotions, then the more we study the most human art, called music, the greater chance we have at human success.