Search up Hopkins and you’ll find all things innovative, medicine, and STEM related. It’s unfortunate that our Humanities and Arts departments don’t carry as much weight in the name, because they too are doing incredible and ground-breaking things.
This blog is going to focus on what it means for me to be a music major, and what I’m doing right now in the semester as one.
The idea of music has been a dynamic one for me, and it’s changed dramatically throughout my time here at school. It was something I just merely enjoyed coming into Hopkins and Peabody, but it’s really grown into something else.
Music has become a lot more about others, but a lot more about me too. Allow me to explain.
In my Theory 3 class, we’re currently working on analyzing various Bach Inventions (like this famous one, Bach Invention #1). In class we break down the inventions and analyze the scores, finding musical phrases (named subjects and countersubjects), and see how they permeate through the piece in various forms. We see how simple yet genius these inventions are, and really understand how Bach came up with simple, yet complex-sounding music. We also discuss what makes a piece “Bach”, and what makes it Baroque (an era of Western art music of a particular style).
In this instance, studying music has shown me how meticulous and detailed successful composers from the past were. It’s given me an altered appreciation, and it’s changed the way I listen and receive music, new and old.
Every Thursday, Peabody hosts its Thursday Noon concert series, where the conservatory features an instrumental department with a free concert to the public (like Strings, Winds, Voice, even Computer Music). I went last Thursday with my saxophone professor to see one of my studio mates play. He played a piece by Lori Laitman named I Never Saw Another Butterfly. It’s a heartbreaking piece for saxophone and soprano, where an instrumental melodic line is overlayed onto poetic text. Specifically, the poems are written by Jewish children who lived in concentration camps. It’s so tough to listen to, and the piece really challenges the audience to try and explore their stories.
Here’s the text to one of my favorite movements, III. Birdsong:
He doesn’t know the world at all
Who stays in his nest and doesn’t go out.
He doesn’t know what birds know best
Nor what I want to sing about,
That the world is full of loveliness.
When dewdrops sparkle in the grass
and earth’s aflood with morning light,
A blackbird sings upon a bush
To greet the dawning after night.
Then I know how fine it is to live.
Hey, try to open your heart
To beauty; go to the woods someday
And weave a wreath of memory there.
Then if the tears obscure your way
You’ll know how wonderful it is
To be alive
Being able to explore a work of music with others (my saxophone professor in this instance), means being able to discuss the meaning of a work, why it’s effect is so powerful on an audience, and what the performer did to let us discover and feel particular emotions. After the performance, my professor and I talked about how the composer uses harmony, dissonance, and color to paint music onto text. In this instance, studying music has shown me its raw importance and how it’s a vehicle to explore ideas and experiences. It’s become a lot more about the performer-audience relationship, and why it’s important to think about such things.
These two occurrences are just part of the reason why music is becoming such an integral part of my life. What I love about it is its fluidity and subjectivity – I’m never put into a box of what’s right and wrong. I’m thankful that I’m surrounded by such like-minded people, and shocked even, about what my peers are accomplishing. I love it here, and wouldn’t want to be learning this anywhere else.