“[Psychologist] L.S Vygotsky never forgets that language is always, and at once, both social and intellectual in function, nor does he forget for a moment the relation of intellect and affect, of how all communication, all thought, is also emotional, reflecting ‘personal needs and interests, the inclinations and impulses’ of the individual”.
“The corollary to all this is that if communication goes awry, it will affect intellectual growth, social intercourse, language development, and emotional attitudes, all at once, simultaneously and inseparably”.
– Oliver Sacks, Seeing Voices
These passages are referring to language in the sense of speech and sign. How about language in the sense of music?
Music, then, is a language that is always and at once social, intellectual, and emotional. To acknowledge these constituent elements is to examine music as a network. This is where the corollary comes in. What does it mean for communication to go awry in music?
Our first inclination is to think of when the delivery of music is faulty: an out of tune singer or a passage played terribly. And yet performance is but a narrow portion of communication within music.
Further in Sacks’ book, he explains that the environment that pre-lingual deaf children are raised drastically affects their ability to think and process language. It is how parents treat their child.
Sacks meets one child whose whole family learned sign along with her. There was a deliberate choice to integrate her into the family on her terms, not theirs. Subjugation did not enter their minds. It is no surprise that Sacks found her as bright and brimming with wonder.
From a Google search, one definition of ‘communication’ is “the means of connection between people or places”. The connection between deaf child and parent affects the way the child engages with (sign) language and thought. Immersing the whole family in sign is such an example.
Communication is connection.
How people within music connect to each other affects how we think and use music as a language. Breakdowns in communication become more than sloppy playing. They transform to frustrations between teacher and student and scenes that subject others to prejudice. These emotionally drain, intellectually stagnate, and socially isolate.
If we can examine how we connect with others and its relationship to the emotional, social, and intellectual, what difference in music can it make?