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The Music between Us: Is Music a Universal Language? Kindle Edition
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About the Author
Kathleen Marie Higgins is professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of The Music of Our Lives and Nietzsche’s “Zarathustra.”
- ASIN : B008061V0E
- Publisher : The University of Chicago Press (May 1, 2012)
- Publication date : May 1, 2012
- Language : English
- File size : 1082 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 291 pages
- Lending : Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #838,289 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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That is not always easy. We may never get out of other people's music everything that they do. What Higgins does very well is dig out the underlying human capacity for music. She agrees with famous ethnomusicologist Charles Seeger who wrote: "Music, though not a universal language, is without question more nearly universal in all senses of the word, including world-wide perspective, than speech."
In her chapter on "The Music of Animals," she argues that animals really do create music and really do enjoy it. She says all the efforts of a male bird to attract a female with his beautiful song would be useless if she did not enjoy it. I was surprised to learn that many animals besides whales and birds sing, even rats.
Higgins spends most of the rest of the book talking about the function of music in our lives. In her chapter, "What's Involved in Sounding Human?" she makes the main point of her book that we enjoy music because it resembles so closely the physical activities of our bodies. This feature may be the cause of why our bodies resonate so well with music, causing us to sway, dance, march, and tap our feet. Even very small children move to the rhythm of music.
She often refers to the work of Oliver Sachs, whose brain-damaged patients were able to speak and think only by singing. I was surprised she did not take up Sachs' suggestion that music may be the language of the brain. Even the most common motions, like rubbing your hands or walking requires a cascading volume of nerve firings that ever so fluidly coordinate thousands of muscle fibers. It reminds us of nothing so much as someone conducting a great symphony orchestra. It may be that music not only mimics physical activity but causes it. Someday, I think, they may find that the genes in our DNA not only have the codes for building our bodies but also the scores for how they move.
Higgins is not comfortable with the idea that music is a language. She says it may be the other way around. In "The Music of Language," she points our the many musical facets of language, tone, inflection, rhythm, etc., and writes that learning language depends on our musical capabilities. Music gives us much more direct access to our emotions and reveals elements of thought that cannot be expressed in language. She argues that learning more about music will teach us a lot about language.
In "Musical Synesthesia," Higgins shows us how music affects different senses besides hearing. We hear with our whole bodies. She points out that hearing is our most acute sense and the most efficient in keeping us in touch with our environment. It can detect the presence of an agent in a few microseconds, several thousand times than than our eyes. The nerve trunks from the muscles all pass through the ear. In this way, the ear governs not only our posture, gait, and stride, but also the orientation of our body parts to one another and to the outside world.
I was surprised that she did not refer to the recent findings about mirror neurons, which enable us and other animals to know what others are thinking and feeling by observing their actions. In Western cultures, audiences are often sit passively during performances. This is why watching the conductors, musicians, singers, and dancers perform adds so greatly to our pleasure.
Her best chapters are on how music affects the emotions, especially joy. In the chapter "A Song in Your Heart," she quotes the ancient Chinese philosopher Xunzi who claimed, "Music is joy." This was not just his own opinion. He was pointing out that the Chinese character for joy and music are the same.
In "Comfort and Joy," she explains shows how music gives us the feelings of being at home in the universe and with our own kind. Many studies show us how hearing and musical capacities of infants enable them to establish the identity of their caregivers and of themselves. Music also joins us strongly with members of our own kind (for better or worse, she points out) and gives us the feeling of not being alone.
Higgins is a careful writer and scholar, clear in presenting her own opinions and those who would disagree. Nearly a third of the book is dedicated to footnotes. She is not always easy to read, but her book is entirely worth the effort.
Bravo! A masterful performance! Encore!