Every single human being is musical

There. I said it. A blanket satement: “Every single human being is musical.”

It isn’t so long ago I didn’t believe that.

For instance, I remember being singled out for orchestra in primary school, over thirty years ago now (in Ye Darke Ages!).

Our whole year level was given a hearing test, where they beeped these notes at us, and we had to say which ones were the same and which were different.

I must have done well in that whacked-out test, because next thing I knew, I was selected to play the violin in the school orchestra. One of only half a dozen kids in the year level.

Then I noticed, once I’d joined the orchestra, how many family members there were: the Tickle sisters, the Beard brothers (all four of them!), and now the Veitch siblings – my older brother and me.

My brother and I with our instruments: him with his 'cello, and me with my violin

It looked like musicality ran in families, and since I first noticed it, all those years ago, I’ve never disputed that some families were “more equal than others” when it came to music.

And somehow or other, despite never having being taught or trained, my brother and I seemed to have this knack for music that was in us, right from the beginning – born inside our genetic shells, where no-one could take it away, or even really see what it was or where it came from.

Questioning the God-given, self-acknowledged superiority of The Musician

But now I’m not so sure.

I think maybe there’s a big problem with our musical culture, and how we judge music, and very much with how we train and teach music.

We musical types are so convinced we have something special, we’ve hardly stopped to question whether that’s actually true or not – or whether we’ve just rigged the playing field to suit us, and paid off the referee.

I mean, what about that kid that can’t hold a tune, but has an incredible sense of rhythm? They would never have been picked for orchestra, but that same orchestra might have just missed out on the best percussionist it would ever have got. Are they musical? I’d think so.

And what about the kid who can dance like you’ve never seen, but sings like a cat on steroids? Their whole fricking body is registering the music and responding to it – not just their fingers or their vocal chords! Yet if we heard them sing, we’d never call them a musician.

But I would.

Music doesn’t stop with the throat and hands!

And then there’s the issue of hand-eye co-ordination. I’ve lost track of the number of musicians I know who can sing well but are an embarrasement on the dance floor (hi honey!).

A choir I used to be involved with tried just a few simple steps (like – really, REALLY simple!) to some African music they sang a couple of years ago, and I swear most of the choir members couldn’t tell their left foot from their right. Just as well, really, as I think most of the men, at least, had two left feet!

This might seem irrelevant, but in a lot of cultures, singing and dancing are intertwined, inseparable. Would these “special needs” dancers have been stopped from singing because they couldn’t dance?

Maybe…I guess that means my husband’s career in music would have been doomed too! Which shows how judging according to one particular view of what it means to be musical can be so wrong – and so limiting.

What I’m saying here is that we judge people as musical or not, in our society, according to a very small set of metrics that totally ignore whole facets of what it means to be musical, and to have the music in you.

We tell a person they can’t sing if their voice is rough, despite the fact they have perfect pitch – then they go away and never sing again, convinced they’re a failure in the musical world.

Or we stop someone from joining a choir because they’re too loud, too tall, too whatever – and prevent someone from sharing the music that is in them and of them, because of our own shallow and petty perspectives about the world.

Music is transformative

Every single human being is musical. I’m convinced of it. My son, who is autistic, used to bellow out songs so badly you’d want to block your ears – tuneless and loud, and totally awful in every respect.

But recently his understanding of music (he’s only six) has transformed, and suddenly we’re finding he’s got great pitch, and sounds nice to listen to, and he’s in time with the music better than most kids his age. He clearly just needed to grow into the music – and to be given a chance to shine.

Transformation can happen, if we give it a chance. And maybe his transformation is happening because we always encouraged him and told him he could, instead of telling him to stop, and making him believe that he couldn’t.

Dreaming a musical dream…

If I could have a dream project, it would be to gather together a whole stack of people who believe they can’t sing, who have been told they can’t sing, who have been encouraged to never sing, and who have been dumped from choirs and glee clubs around the world. And I’d get them to make music that would get the world dancing.

Because I believe that every single human being is musical. It is in us, and of us, and nothing can ever take it away. And if this is a rant, so be it, but it is what I believe, and that’s the end of this post.

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5 thoughts on “Every single human being is musical

  1. Quote: “If I could have a dream project, it would be to gather together a whole stack of people who believe they can’t sing, who have been told they can’t sing, who have been encouraged to never sing, and who have been dumped from choirs and glee clubs around the world. And I’d get them to make music that would get the world dancing.”

    Leanne you’ve hit the nail on the head. This is also o0ur dream and we try to live it everyday at http://www.vocalsteps.com. Maybe you want to join in our efforts? By the way we’re happy about your son’s progress. Exciting times are ahead.

  2. I was also one of the kids in primary/elementary school handed a violin due to my knack for “perfect pitch”. My brother, on the other hand, never really could hold a tune. My husband is also tone deaf… but I consider them both musical. My husband sings my daughter to sleep and she adores him for it… that is music making children happy– regardless. And, although my brother can’t sing or dance, he can find the best of music to share… which means he can hear it. Our parents set us up to LOVE music… every aspect of it. I immersed myself in it by wanting to play and sing, he wanted to listen and appreciate. I think that makes us equally musical. My husband was never really musically guided…it wasn’t a big deal in his family. But, even without all of that influence, he found a way to make beautiful music.
    I used to think that tone deaf and rhythm-deprived resulted in an obvious lack of being musical. Now, I think appreciation is all it takes. Great post!!

  3. Thank you for your confidence in non-singers who have music in them. I believe I’m tone deaf, but I appreciate fine music so much, I weep to hear it. So glad to have found your site!

  4. Hi Tripsfor2 – Apparently there is a gene for genuine tone-deafness, just as there are people who are totally colour-blind, so there is a possibility that you’re truly tone deaf.

    But the chances are you’re not. And in the end, unless you’re intending to sing, most instruments even do not require an accurate ear. So there’s no reason why, for instance, you couldn’t learn to play the piano or organ, both of which are ready-pitched, for example, or percussion, which is more about rhythm and co-ordination.

    I stand by my belief that every human being is musical, and you’re proof of it! If you appreciate music so much that it can make you cry, you’re more musical than most! So drop the “tone deaf” label, and start calling yourself an “appreciator of fine music” 🙂

    Oh, and Merry Christmas!

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