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Speaking Music

Music is often called a universal language. Just as a picture can be worth a thousand words, the sounds of a certain piece of music or a familiar melody can evoke thoughts and feelings that would take much longer to describe if we used words. As a language, music conveys ideas beyond the actual sounds.

We learn to read, write and speak a language so that we can communicate with others. Typically, we learn our native language as a child by hearing it, learning to speak it and then how to read and write. Until he or she learns otherwise, a child does not fear mistakes and only has to master a language in stages.

Music instruction is also usually broken into stages or areas of study. These areas may include learning to read music notation, producing sounds on an instrument, playing by ear, and creating new music. You can become a professional (and quite successful) musician without mastering all of the skills. How many jazz or pop musicians would be able to read or play the score for a symphony orchestra? How many classically trained instrumentalists can create music on the spot – i.e. improvise – or are even capable of composing a new piece of music in a few weeks?

In earlier times, only scholars learned to read and write, but virtually everyone learned to speak. Those who could read and write recorded knowledge and wisdom so that it could be passed on, but applying the knowledge and wisdom required speaking and sharing. This is something everyone could do.

Musicians may be the scholars of musical language, but just as everyone speaks a language, I believe everyone can speak music. Even the professional musicians have limitations. Whatever you may believe your musical skill level is, when we gather to worship, there are opportunities to use those skills. After all, as St. Augustine reportedly said, “He who sings, prays twice.”