Music and the Language of the Birds


Star, Large Gold Background, Songbird, Singing

Music and the Language of the Birds

Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent. – Victor Hugo


During the medieval period, people believed that in their singing, birds had a more direct means of communicating than that of words.

Where words fail, music speaks. – Hans Christian Andersen

Many years ago, I began to think about how foolish it is to believe that groups of letters can represent anything of substance. Yet, that is the construct of writing. We form letters together, and we expect our readers to make the leap of faith and to connect them to some greater meaning

A couple of days ago, I posted an article and discussed the inadequacy of words to express emotions. In that post, I said  that art can sometimes bridge the divide between words and meaning. Music is another way to do that.

Music is the shorthand of emotion. – Leo Tolstoy

The Tao says that feeling cannot be conveyed verbally and that as soon as we begin to verbalize a feeling, the emotion vanishes.

Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything. – Plato

Quite often, music catches me and whisks me away into an emotion or a previous part of my own history–it transports me, and it is somewhere within that ability to transport that we discover the power of music.

Music is the soundtrack of your life. – Dick Clark

In the series Girls, the music is like the language of the birds. It penetrates the story in ways that the other mechanics of the series cannot. The songs of Girls are like mainlining the story.

Partially Because of Its Use of Music, the HBO Series Girls Raises the Bar

About ten days ago, I stumbled into the HBO Series Girls. Before that, I had never heard of the series and I had never heard of Lena Dunham either. Now, I realize that Dunham is a whiz kid–a phenomenon who has only begun to make her mark.  By the end of the first episode, I was hooked on Girls, and I believe that the music is largely responsible for that.

Anytime that I become absorbed by a movie or a television series, I am a bit lost when it ends. There will be one more season of Girls, but I have watched all that is available to this point. Last night, I searched for another series to watch–one that I hoped would use music in a way similar to that of Girls. I began watching HBO’s Vinyl, but I barely got through the first episode.

Vinyl also uses music, but I don’t like the way that it does so. I asked myself why. I like some of the song selections on Vinyl and I don’t like some. However, I could say the same thing about the songs chosen for the series Girls. I am 66-years-old, and my musical taste is not the same as that of many of today’s young viewers, but I still respected the songs that were chosen for the series Girls. I appreciated them because of the way that they underscored and helped tell the story of the series.

In Vinyl, the music is disruptive. It interrupts the drama. In an almost cacophonous way, the music in Vinyl almost drowns out the story–what little story that there is. In my opinion, Vinyl hopes that old rockers [and I am one of them] will love the music so very much that they will forgive the fact that the story lags. That ploy didn’t work for me.

When loud, wild songs play on the series Girls, it is because the drama of the series calls for it. Unlike in Vinyl, the music from Girls is a fine, golden thread that is woven through the plot and that is part of its tapestry. For instance, when Shoshanna was in Japan, contemporary Japanese music is played. I didn’t like that musical selection, but it was perfect for the place that it was injected into the series.

When she is re-entering America and is nearly knocked down by another American passenger, the song Back in the New York Groove plays.

When Hannah returns from the Iowa Writers Workshop and discovers that Adam has moved another girl into her apartment, Patsy Cline’s She’s Got You plays.

Much of the music that is woven into Girls is lyrical–it has a folk sound to it. I admit that I naturally gravitate toward that kind of music. But as I said before, much of the music is heavy and metallic and not at all my style, Regardless of that fact, however, I like the way that all of the musical selections extend what would have been possible without it.

But when you get music and words together, that can be a very powerful thing. Bryan Ferry

©Jacki Kellum May 3, 2016



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