Music, stories, and the world around us – Cynthia Closkey

Photo: “Big Sur color explosion” by maveric2003

To a person raised on television and film, as I was, music can seem to exist mainly for the purpose of supplementing storytelling.

Think of the score of Jaws, the theme song of Cheers, or the musical beds of This American Life: none of those stories would carry the same emotional impact without the music.

So strong is this impulse that, at many of the concerts I’ve attended this season, I’ve found myself envisioning the chase scene, the soft emotional two-shot, the montage for which a particular movement or piece might provide the perfect background. Sad, but true.

This weekend’s musical selections demonstrated that music can be equally powerful in portraying a still scene — a landscape, with its particular topography, skyscapes, and life within.

This is easy to see in the distinct ocean scenes in “Four Sea Interludes” and the cliffs overlooking the crashing ocean in The Dharma at Big Sur. Close your eyes and you can hear the pounding waves and calls of whales, breezes lifting seabirds, water lapping the shore.

I think it applies as well to Sibelius’s Symphony No. 6. Speaking during the Friday night concert, John Adams described the piece as depicting “a mysterious and at times profoundly beautiful interior landscape.” To me, the music sounded like an aural portrait of Sibelius’s native Finland, a gently rolling land punctuated with thousands of lakes and islands — wild, rich, strangely beautiful.

But in each case, the music seems to describe more than land. There’s emotion there, and drama, both stemming from how we react to the landscapes we perceive.

Of course, how we react is a kind of story — so perhaps music really is a form of storytelling after all.

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