“Where Words Fail…”


At Its Best, This Is What Music Does

At Its Best, This Is What Music Does

It was Hans Christian Andersen who wrote, “Where words fail, music speaks.”

Tonight, Martine and I attended the Torrance Civic Chorale’s annual Christmas concert. It was beautiful. Conductor David Burks enabled me to step outside my usual noisily conflicted self and into an ethereal place, one of joy and celebration.

I’m not going to try to talk about what music does for me, because how it acts on me is outside the world of words. I could tell you what kind of music I like the most, but I could not even begin to describe the mechanism by which my emotions are directly manipulated.

I regularly listen to KUSC-FM in Los Angeles, which plays classical music pretty much all day. When musicologist and KUSC announcer Jim Svejda—a man who for decades has influenced my taste in music—talks about music or interviews a musician, I wish he would shut up. I’ve even told the station that when phoning in my annual donation: “Please keep Jim Svejda on, but tell him not to talk so much.”

It’s not what Svejda says that influences me: It is his choices in the music he plays.

Over the years, I have been most moved by Gustave Mahler, Jean Sibelius, and Anton Bruckner. Last night, I read Vladimir Sorokin’s Day of the Oprichnik while listening to Bruckner’s Third Symphony. It was nothing short of sublime. Now that I have much of my favorite music on an MP3 player, I feel liberated. High in the Andes, I listened to Sibelius and Tchaikovsky and felt they were writing music about what I was seeing with my eyes even as I was seeing it..