The Breath of Music

The first time my friend played his cello for me, I was astounded by two things.  The first was how talented a musician he is. The other was the feeling the music gave me.  The moment he laid his bow to the strings, not only were my ears filled with beautiful sound, but I was enveloped by the vibrations. It was as if I was hearing with my entire body, and a fresh breeze was flowing over me as I sat just a few feet away from the instrument.

I have felt this same breath at symphonies and other performances that feature orchestras, such as plays and operas.  It is like the sounds are carried on a flow of air that I feel as well as hear. This also happens at rock concerts, during the times when the crowd is hushed and the band is playing softly.  It is reminiscent of the cool breeze after a thunderstorm. Not only does the vibration of the music soften, but it feels as though the temperature drops and the air freshens.

I suppose this makes perfect sense.  After all sound, consists of waves.  It is vibration, creating waves in the air, that carry that same vibration elsewhere, specifically to us.  Sound is movement. The music is breathing.

But it is more than that, I think.   Processing the various components of music, involves many areas of our mind. We interpret tone and dynamics, rhythm and melody, just to name a few. There is so much brain activity taking place. For these reasons alone, music engages us in ways that few other things can. But here are many other things happening to us during a live performance.  Our bodies are feeling the vibrations, while our ears process the same oscillations as sound, but there is also the visual aspect. We are seeing it being created. Our mind lights up.  Our imagination is inspired and emotions are triggered.  The production of dopamine increases which makes us feel good.

Perhaps most importantly, live music is a shared experience. We are connected to each other through our interaction with the musicians. The music is touching each of us, not only on an emotional level, but physically making contact with us.  Our minds and senses are stimulated as as one. A communal inhale and exhale.

At times, it seems the softer the music the more I feel its breath.  Much like meditation, which focuses on breathing, the more still the mind, the more freely it flows. It is in the stillness of rests, interspersed with sound, like warm air being drawn to cool air, where the magic happens.

Life has its own rhythms, sounds and patterns.  They are a part of us all.  Music is the key that unlocks these common aspects.  When we tune in, we are open to its flow.