Food sustains us. We can get excited by the first tomato of late summer or a slice of ripe peach. But imagine a landscape where one could not escape it: the air scented everywhere with frying potatoes; fresh-baked bread; tomatoes, oregano, and garlic. On every street corner, young people offering organic corn, salad greens, the best coffee and tea. Free and magically non-caloric, no threat to the arteries or the blood sugar.
How soon would we run from the cornucopia, trying to reclaim the body’s peaceful state?
My dystopian parable is not subtle, nor are the ideas that follow new. Substitute MUSIC for FOOD.
One hundred and more years ago, people sang or played instruments at home (parlor or porch) or in concerts and clubs. Music was created rather than a product to be consumed.
Then, the phonograph in the late 1800s, the radio forty years later. The transistor radio in the Fifties; the Walkman a few decades later, the iPod and smartphones. Earbuds. Muzak — piped-in anonymous music (in elevators, stores, restaurants, supermarkets, hospitals) is nearly ninety years old.
We love music. But we might be in danger of choking on it. I don’t simply refer to the techno-pop that drives me out of an otherwise promising restaurant (I have been known to ask the waitperson to turn the music down and say, “The lower the music, the higher the tip”), but to the proliferation of sound.
I walk past students where I teach, waiting for a class to start or for one to end, the music audible from their earbuds. If I am feeling kindly, paternalistic, or didactic, I may motion to the student (who reluctantly un-buds) to point to my hearing aids and say, “Loud music did this to me. Do you want to walk around saying ‘Excuse me?’ to someone you love in ten years?” At best, the response is a sheepish grin — an Old Stranger Telling Me What To Do — but rarely does the volume go down.
Because music is thrust on us without our consent, or it is purveyed for free, audiences rarely think to honor living performers with silence and attention. Trained by television in their living rooms, they chatter obliviously and glare at someone who asks them not to speak.
I am deeply connected to music. It makes me feel glad to be alive; it makes me weep with joy. But I don’t want to hear it — even the music I treasure — all the time, just as I would not want to be eating constantly.
What if we treated music as deep art, a holy phenomenon to be approached with love, awe, and reverence? We wouldn’t put our earbuds in upon waking and fall asleep with them in at night. We wouldn’t expect to eat in the thrum of an artificial let’s-have-a-party ruckus.
And we would take in what was offered to us with the deepest appreciation, rather than requiring that we be stuffed full of sounds at every waking moment.
Could this exalted state come to pass? I dream of it, but I have my doubts.
May your happiness increase!