June 2nd 2017
This time of year in Aspen, music comes to town. The huge music tent is spiffed up, and students pour in from every corner of the earth dragging their unwieldy instruments behind them. Strings and horns fall into the disarray of a tune up, conductors tap tap their batons on podiums, and then all comes together in a surge of harmony (or in the case of Benjamin Briton, cacophony.)
Since the dawn of human history, men and women have slipped out of speech into song. It varies, of course, from culture to culture, but the urge to music is universal. Cats meow, Dogs bark and humans sing.
There is no reason for music. It doesn't make the species fitter, but it does make the human heart bigger. The happy person hums or whistles. It is the universal language of emotion that bypasses the intellect and drops us into the realm of "religion," I would say, if religion hadn't slipped off into...
...something else entirely.
In 2009, Andrew Schulman, a professional musician, was in a coma in a hospital bed, and close to flat-lining. Given little hope by the medics, his wife plugged his ears with a recording of his favourite music, St. Matthew's Passion. Within hours, his vital signs had stabilised, and within four days he was out of the hospital.
I recently sat on a weekday in the completely empty sanctuary of Riverside Church, New York, in a vast verticle shaft of light enclosed by a vaulted ceiling and stained glass. Luckily for me, the organist was aloft practicing Sunday offerings, and the entire space, both outside and inside me, seemed to pulse and swell. Sitting in churches usually brings on in me a gag reflex, but I had to give in to this, for what is such music other than the spectacle of our race straining on tiptoe?