Language and Music

THE SONG BEGINS with a great resonating shout of joy and pain that resolves into the word “Well,” swooping down from a soaring A flat to E flat. “I can’t quit you, baby,” the singer continues, the band entering with a crashing seventh chord, “but I got to put you down for a while.” … The guitar responds with a six-note phrase, played twice. An ideal match for the voice, the guitar’s sound is stingingly incisive, rich with vibrato and its own exhilarating bends and sustains, at once lush and restrained.

(Carlo Rotella, “Otis Rush,” NYTimes Magazine, 12-2018)

I’m persuaded that painting enters our senses visually, and music enters them audibly, and that language is not involved in conveying what each medium conveys. I’m also convinced that the viewer or listener benefits from repeated encounters with a great work via the pertinent sensory faculty — eye or ear — scrubbed of the intrusion of narrative or doctrine. However, I confess that, be it a crutch or an illusion, I feel that sometimes a piece of good descriptive writing seems to enhance my apprehension of a work, especially with music. Afterwards, I can listen to it with greater esthetic rapture. In a sense, I can be taught to hear a work slightly better with the assistance of language.

(c) 2019 JMN.

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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