Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Music in a Quiet World
Every now and then I ponder the quiet.
I was out on an organ tuning job today in a little museum about an hour and 20 minutes south of Columbus, in a little town called Waverly.
Waverly had it's "boom" from about 1820 to about 1917. It was one of the lock locations along the Erie canal which connected Lake Erie to the Ohio River. There are hundreds of these little boomtowns all along the abandoned canals that spiderweb their way across Ohio and most of them are pretty cool. Downtown Waverly is pretty much the same as it was in the early 20th century, though there are a few new buildings around. The dominant building at the main intersection is an old Hotel called Emmitt House.
Looking into the windows of Emmitt House, which was built in 1861, one is reminded of a saloon from the set of a Western. It must look very much the same as it did in the 1800's. The Pike Heritage Museum (where I was headed) is housed in an old church just up the street.
The museum houses several rooms of artifacts from the surrounding area, pictures, books, a collection of ladies' hats, military and band uniforms, musical instruments (including the organ I was tuning), and the like. What was striking to me was the number of musical instruments and the number of pictures of places where music was played in the town. It occurred to me that it must have been remarkably quiet for people in that time period, long before the advent of radio and television. Any music that was heard was actually being made by someone.
Today, we use music as "background noise". Everywhere we turn there is music or some other kind of noise to distract us. And, as if the constant blare of amplified, canned music from the store speakers and restaurant televisions isn't enough, we have devised new and ever smaller, more compact ways to carry our noise with us. It's like an addiction.
In the days before radio, all of the music was created by live musicians, which meant that it was something special, something that was worked at, something that was practiced and polished, and then performed to bring joy to the musicians and the audience. Music must have been an important thing in the lives of the people of Waverly to be so overwhelmingly displayed at their heritage museum.
Today, in this noisy world, I think we have lost the humanity of our music. In fact, I wonder if, in all the clamor for our attention, we have not lost a little bit of the humanity of ourselves.
It made me think about quiet...
And how much we need it.