I love what music does to my ear drums. How it affects my emotions. For that matter, though, I love the mystery of flavors on my taste buds or feeling the force of the ocean on my body. The existential appreciation for these sensory experiences stop there. I will not write an ode to the grandeur of a melody, ever. As much as I love music, I have to believe life would be just as good without it. Let me tell you why.
My odd attitude about music starts with classic rock. As a teen I didn’t care for it as much as my friends, but it took a while to realize why. Back when dad was the strongest man in the world he was telling us why the Stones, Led Zeppelin or the Eagles were king. Well your dad, but not mine. The Stones taste like stale vegetables to me, probably because my parents didn’t listen to them. They’ve never heard a Beatles song. In fact, they have never endorsed a musician in my life. My parents are deaf.
Because of this, I had one degree less of indoctrination to the goodness of sound. My parents were not on the sidelines of my eventual passion for music. They let me try piano and french horn lessons. They took me to before school choir rehearsals when I started liking the cute sopranos. They went to my choir concerts. If it wasn’t for their tolerance, a classic rock bias wouldn’t have been my only musical complaint. Inevitably like many, I came to know music personally, and for a while now, I’ve been in love with both making and listening to music. I’ve just crucially known that it isn’t an essential love for a fulfilling life.
I’ve lived with a passion for music for some time now. But if Beethoven didn’t exist I think I’d be the same person. Suppose we had dog’s ears and harmonies didn’t hold sentiment. What would music be then? Would humans behave differently and know the world less? Although music is a remarkable thing, it is not out of this world, nor of a complexity beyond that of our other senses.
It’s not that I can’t be willing to know a world exists my parents aren’t allowed to access. Instead it’s that I’ve seen the fullness of their lives and interactions enough to know that the same things music does for you and me they experience in other ways. They know how to appreciate motion on a muted television in ways hearing people cannot conceptualize. There is a wonder to music just like there is with plenty of other non-essential aspects of our humanity. Football games have changed lives, too. Instead of music and sound being a given, we should consider it as an option. Sometimes one with consequences.
We live in a hearing world that communicates predominantly by ear and mouth. This truth is unquestionably marginalizing in social, legal, and commercial arenas for the deaf. There are far more elegant writers (many deaf) on this topic, but for now I’ll attempt to summarize the source of difference: the isolation that may come from being deaf has more to do with being ostracized in a world that prefers verbal communication, than from a lack of access to the intrinsic qualities of sound. To begin to understand deafhood first imagine sound as an option, not simply the absence of something you’ve lived with.
While music is a remarkably elegant vessel for sharing emotion, it can be replaced. Maybe not with one substituted sense, but it is at least the case that one is not deprived of experiencing the world if they do not experience sound. My passion for music is no different from a woodworker’s or a painter’s passion. The art of sound begins with recognizing that melody is like all other physical experiences. Or think of it in a broader sense. A rigorous definition of happiness, if it can be grounded at all, probably won’t be measured in frequencies or timbres, but something common to all sensory input.
The only special status to sound is it’s popularity, and we all know what popular attitudes tend to do to unpopular ones: drown them out. While music has been wonderful to me, it has more to do with my willingness as a human to be subject to new experiences, and moved by them. To label that experience as fundamentally sound-driven, is audist.