Average Jane

The Pulse of the People: Music and Power

My afternoon at the Kennedy Center. Verdi’s Requiem. Ninety uninterrupted minutes of “culture”.

After Requiem ended, the group looked at each other puzzled. We knew it was good, but we didn’t know why it was important. Thankfully there was a discussion after the performance. The mostly Canadian conductor spoke in what I am sure was English about stuff I knew nothing about. Names of composers and their masterpieces were tossed about freely and the audience ate it up. I mostly sat and looked pretty, hoping my glassy eyes (surely reflecting the stage lights) didn’t blind the poor conductor and the session’s moderator.

Toward the end, though, they began to discuss the concept of “pulse”. I knew exactly of what they spoke. Those moments in the piece where you know it is building to something wonderful. When you are carried along by a current of drums and tuba. Tossed about by the winds.

Music has a pulse. A driving force that moves listeners through a song’s rise and fall. I feel it. I feel it intensely.

The music builds, chord upon chord. The timpani BUM bum bum BUM bum bums. The soprano’s voice rises an octave at a time until.. until.. until…… the climax. And then the silence. The room let’s out a sigh. Then the air returns to our lungs all at once.

I feel it’s something unique to music: A collective experience unlike any other. Without a word, you and a room full of strangers go through the same set of emotions. Guided along the same journey. Your heart beats in time to the music. But tell me… did you ever feel like you were being controlled by the music?

The conductor spoke of an “outlawing” of pulse in music for years, right up until the mid-late 20th century. (I suck with dates. This might be a complete fabrication.) When the musical standards first changed, it was to avoid a nationalistic tendency that came with a piece of music that had that pulse. So many people in one place being affected in the same way by the same piece of music at the same time was seen as… well… propaganda.

I could see it, sort of. If the audience is meant to be submissive to the Motherland and Her leaders, seeing that audience being guided in any way would be threatening. Unless they had somehow harnessed the power.

Like Obama.

There was a nationalistic energy that propelled us through the election. We rose and fell together. We were intoxicated. We were lost in the music of a true leader.

There is a pulse that drives a nation. It is similar to the pulse that drives a piece of music. It is a beautiful thing to be caught in. It’s dangerous in the wrong hands.

But it’s completely compelling.


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