History has proven our predilection for the delivered word, especially in the form of the speech. When employed by orators with talent, the spoken word is an immensely powerful and moving tool. A strong, well-delivered speech can motivate, can convince, can inform, and can compel. It can instill in an audience a panoply of powerful emotions or provide them with unanticipated and unrecognized perspectives. The power of speech is evident in the reverence and respect given to some of history’s greatest speakers, the likes of John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Yet the vocal word is not the only tool that can be employed to such an end. Speeches do not stand alone as the medium through which emotion, ideas, and perspectives can be conveyed.
Music and melody are too capable of accomplishing what speeches often achieve. Who doesn’t feel moved or feel a strong emotional response to a sad or happy song? Who doesn’t feel compelled to action or motivated after listening to a “pump-up” song? Similar to how we seek out specific speeches on certain subjects when the circumstances call for it, we seek out certain songs and sounds. Similar to how we respect and revere the great speakers of history for the powers of their rhetorical talent, a manifestation of what their speeches do to us the listeners, we too respect and revere our most talented musicians and singers. Music is, like the speech, a powerful tool of communication. Music, like the speech, can inform, can motivate, can convince, can inform, and compel.
The connections between music and speech, between melody and the delivered word, are numerous and deep. We process and understand the two in similar manners; it is no wonder, then, that they are capable of similar powers. Music is socially consumed and interpreted as being meaningfully structured, produced, performed, and displayed; that is, rather than being a collection of patterns of sounds, music has meaning. Music is thereby the conveyance of ideas, a form of communication. Significant in the application of music as communication, the concept of communication does not need be an idea or action in and of itself, but rather the process where ideas are rendered meaningfully. In other words, music can be a powerful tool for communication not through the specific sounds themselves, but rather through our understanding and application of those sounds; “pump-up music” is not inherently motivational, but our understanding of what a heavy beat means is manifest in our excitement derived from it. Similar, words are consumed and interpreted with meaningful structure, yet too are simply patterns of sounds. Still, from the meaning we derive from our understanding of words, an understanding developed in the similar process of socialization and education that we come to understand music, we are conveyed ideas. Music and speech are thus intricately in the way we process and understand them.
As stated before, and manifest from the connection between music and speech, melody can elicit from us intense emotional responses. A happy song, like an upbeat speech, can make us feel happy. A sad song, like a sad speech, can make us feel sad. Similar to there being speeches appropriate for weddings or funerals, there are songs appropriate to weddings or funerals. Emotions are one of our main, and perhaps our most important, driving impulse. They are the context in which our thoughts, perspectives, and decisions are made. When we listen to a powerful speech, or a powerful song, we are emotionally manipulated; in effect, we are having our emotions changed by an intentional effort. From this manipulation, we are in a more capable position of making certain choices or seeing certain perspectives. Such, for example, is why we listen to a “pump-up” song, or an inspirational speech, before playing in a big game. We emotionally brace ourselves for the situations that we are encountering or about to encounter. Such is the approach we take to these equally powerful forms of communication.
One would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t enjoy music. It is a pervasive element of our society; indeed, of societies and civilizations spanning the globe and throughout history. Yet, while music surrounds us constantly in our daily lives, its power as a tool of communication, and our application of it as such, is perhaps under recognized and undervalued. Just as we are not all talented speakers or speechwriters, we are not all musicians and singers. Though we appreciate both speech and music, we do not all endeavor to develop the skills needed for them in ourselves. Yet, just like speaking, musical skill is not an innate and immutable talent. It is something that, through practice and study, can be developed and improved. Perhaps, then, in order to become more convincing and more capable individuals, we should also focus some of our energies on developing our musical talents. It need not be a neglected tool of communication which we constantly indulge in without understanding or readily acknowledging its capabilities.