Music on a Summer’s Night
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ROGER ROSENBLATT: There you sit on the grass, somewhere on a summer evening, alone in the company of hundreds, thousands of others– all lost in sounds created by Duke Ellington, Beethoven, or the Beach Boys. Willingly lost, together, in private individual emotions and feelings in common: You and the night and the music in Fairbanks, Denver, Milwaukee, New York City, Tanglewood– everywhere. All summer long, the country spreads out its blankets and dreams. Recall jazz on a summer’s day, Newport, 1958, among the sailing yachts, and the kids and the popsicles, and cigarette smoke– Anita O’Day, Chuck Berry — Mahalia Jackson…
MAHALIA JACKSON: (singing) Everybody talking about…
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Gerry Mulligan… Sailing up a lazy river with Louis.
LOUIS ARMSTRONG: (singing) Up a lazy river
ROGER ROSENBLATT: The song is you; the song is me. The ancient question revives, unanswered: What does music do for, to us? How does it make us sing, dance, pray, march, make war, not love, and love, not war? Theory has it that music is part of our evolutionary adaptation. We have a music gene, it is said, that allows us to communicate emotionally. And, in fact, there is evidence that music arose quite early in the history of the species; a carved bone made into a flute was discovered to be 40,000 years old. ‘Dem bones, ‘dem bones– I assume it only plays oldies.
MUSIC IN BACKGROUND: The leg bone connected to the knee bone …
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Of course, there is disagreement about this theory. In his book “How the Mind Works,” Stephen Pinker wrote that music has no connection to biology, and that it never contributed to the propagation of the species. If that’s so, what’s the point to songs like this?
SINGER: I really can’t stay
SINGER: But baby it’s cold outside
SINGER: I’ve got to go away
SINGER: But baby it’s cold outside
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Whether or not music is part of our biological make-up, it definitely touches something inside us. When I was a child– long before I could read– I sat beside the phonograph and listened to animals come alive because of nothing more than invented sounds. ( Orchestra playing Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” ) When I got a bit older, I didn’t need Peter, but I admired the wolf.
ELVIS PRESLEY: (singing) Love me tender, love me sweet…
ROGER ROSENBLATT: There isn’t anything music cannot do: Raise ambition, raise hopes, raise fear– listen to Bernard Herman’s scores for Hitchcock– I work in writing, the most expansive and clearest of the arts in terms of stated meanings, but I could write all the works of Shakespeare, and never approach the effect of one Cole Porter song.
SINGER: In the still of the night
ROGER ROSENBLATT: “In the Still of the Night” ends with a poem of internal rhymes, like the moon growing dim, on the rim, of a hill, in the chill, still of the night. If I merely read those lyrics, I would not be halfway to your heart. Now try this:
SINGER: Like the moon growing dim on the rim of the hill in the chill still of the night –
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Music of every kind this summer, touching every chord. There is music that sounds like this: (music in background) There is the music of injustice: Labor songs, civil rights songs, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, and this fellow:
SINGER: You better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone — oh, the times they are a- changin’
ROGER ROSENBLATT: And music that sounds like this: (Orchestra playing Mozart Symphony ) — and there is music that sounds like this– at least, I think it’s music: (music in background) And country and western:
SINGER: Your cheating heart will make you weep –
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Writing may writing may come out of darkness, painting from the light, but music comes from all that we cannot see or touch, yet believe in, like a faith. And like believers, we will sit back, as we do every summer, and lose and find ourselves again in the inexpressible. Nothing else will be required. The song is us.
I’m Roger Rosenblatt.