The first thing music does is banish silence. Silence is at once a metaphor for loneliness and the thing itself: It’s a loneliness of the senses. Music overcomes silence, replaces it. It provides us with a companion by occupying our senses—and, through our senses, our minds, our thoughts. It has, quite literally, a presence. We know that sound and touch are the only sensual stimuli that literally move us, that make parts of us move: Sound waves make the tiny hairs in our inner ears vibrate, and, if sound waves are strong enough, they can make our whole bodies vibrate. We might even say, therefore, that sound is a form of touch, and that in its own way music is able to reach out and put an arm around us.
...From a distance of centuries, knowledgeable observers can usually discern when specific cultural developments within societies or civilizations reached their peaks. The experts may argue over precise dates and details, but the existence of the peaks themselves is rarely in question. In the case of Western music, we don’t have to wait centuries for a verdict. We can say with confidence that the system of tonal harmony that flowered from the 1600s to the mid-1900s represents the broad summit of human accomplishment, and that our subsequent attempts to find successors or substitutes for that system are efforts—more or less noble—along a downhill slope.
- From Music Without Magic, by Miles Hoffman, violist and artistic director of the American Chamber Players, and music commentator for NPR’s Morning Edition, in the Spring 2005 Wilson Quarterly.
Has classical music peaked? Or are we just on a temporary downslide on a roller coaster of creativity? Is the lure of pop stardom diverting dreams and stealing young musical talent? Or is pop music evolving into a marriage of sound and lyric that has the potential to exceed the great classics? Does pop music provide greater empathy than classical?