Tag Archives: music

Music: the Universal Language

By Michael Neufeld

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[4 minute read]

I get it, learning a language is difficult. Not only do you have to learn the vocabulary, grammar and syntax of a different language, but you also have to discover all of the nuances, idioms, and contexts for word usage so that the things that you say make sense and express meaning. Because learning an instrument holds many of the same challenges, music is often referred to as a language of its own. Not only must you spend time learning to play an instrument or sing, but you must learn to read and listen to it carefully to truly engage with it. There are multiple levels of meaning in music, and a lot of those levels are changed by the perception of the listener.

Photo by William Recinos on Unsplash

The main similarity between music as a language and actual spoken languages is that the content never changes. In the same way “a ball” in English is “una pelota” in Spanish, a D major chord may be called something different in a different culture. However, many cultures still recognize a ball as a round object used for playing games. In the same way, a D major chord still retains the same sound produced; it doesn’t change across cultures. Thus, when orchestras perform the works of Tchaikovsky, they will sound the same. Played with some level of variance due to the styles of each culture (think of it like speaking with an accent).

The sounds that are produced do not change much across cultures, so emotions and ideas can be universally translated. What I mean by this is, what sounds beautiful in America will often sound beautiful in Japan. What sounds bad in Germany will sound similarly bad in Mexico. A romantic song may still carry that romantic connotation in another context. A scary song can still be used to induce fear in other settings. This is the magic of music: it can carry such emotional weight across a variety of cultures and nations, and by doing so it transmits power, messages, and feelings where words cannot.

Photo by Sergio Capuzzimati on Unsplash

An example of this can be found in the popular J-Pop song, “夜に駆ける,” or translated to English, “Racing into the Night,” released at the end of 2019. I personally have a very small understanding of the Japanese language; although, I know enough to hear fragments of words or sentences, I cannot understand the entirety of a song without looking up translations. However, I can still feel the undeniable energy of a song, the compelling melodies in the vocalist and piano parts, and the emotional release during the breaks and key changes at the end. This song in particular has been on my mind since I discovered it for myself, due to its attention-grabbing qualities. Interestingly enough, this song was based on a Japanese short story by the name of “タナトスの誘惑,” or “Temptation of Thanatos.” Thanatos was the ancient Greek personification of non-violent death, likened to a god according to the mythology of the time. Here we can see how the art and ideas themselves have transcended cultures, both spatially and temporally.

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Advice For ph.d. students

By Wei Gao

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[3 minute read]

Are you a Ph.D. student? If you are, or you are considering pursuing a PhD, I have some advice for you. I am currently a PhD student, and without receiving advice from different individuals in my life, I wouldn’t have the outlook I do now. I want to share one particular word of advice that had a great impact on me, which I think could have an impact on any PhD student.

To fully explain why the advice I received was so important to me, I must introduce the person who gave it to me: meet my friend Tanya [ˈtɑːnjə]. Tanya is from China (the Chinese pronunciation of her name is Tanya [tán yǎ]). I met Tanya for the first time a few years ago in 2016 at an academic conference in Shanghai. As a graduate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Tanya was certainly a rising star in academia. I was responsible for her reception when she came to my university as a guest for the conference. Since it was such a rare opportunity to speak one-one-one with such a distinguished scholar, I asked her, “Tanya, I plan on pursuing a Ph.D. degree in the near future. Could you please give me some advice about how to do good research?” She replied, “Lady Gaga is a great singer; a real artist. You should listen to her music.” Then she left. Needless to say, I was confused after hearing that. I thought to myself, “So does she mean I should listen to Lady Gaga’s music to become a good researcher?” Following her suggestion, I started to listen to Lady Gaga’s music. However, after I listened to all of Lady Gaga’s songs, my research skills had only marginally improved.

Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

One year later, someone told me that Tanya hadn’t published any papers this year. I couldn’t believe it, but after checking her website I realized this person was right. Soon after, I heard people starting to gossip, “Tanya is not a rising star any longer,” “Tanya flops”, “Tanya isn’t what she used to be”. I was genuinely worried about her, and I kept wondering what had happened.

A year later, I met her in person again at another academic conference in Washington DC. After some small talk, I had to mention, “Tanya, I have been following your research, but it seems that you haven’t updated your website for some time.” Although I didn’t ask directly why she hadn’t published anything notable, she quickly understood what I meant. Then she said, “Remember a couple years ago when I asked you to listen to Lady Gaga’s music? Here’s why I did that. Lady Gaga had a commercially successful career for several years. Then, she flopped in 2013 when she released her album Artpop. So what happened? Instead of just satisfying the public, Lady Gaga was trying to produce an album created from an artist’s perspective. Thus, the album Artpop was not accepted by the majority, although it had a large influence on the music industry overall when we look back at it today. The subjects of this album, art and pop, can be considered by many to be antithetical. She caused a stir with her pop fans when she picked sides. Lady Gaga chose art, but that came with a cost.” 

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Bored During Quarantine? Here’s How to Get Started Learning a Musical Instrument!

by Michael Neufeld

Note from the Editor: We understand that buying new instruments might not be financially possible right now. There are cheaper alternatives out there, but this is what the author recommends as an option.

By now, you’re probably sick of avoiding the sick. What is left to do when you’ve already exhausted your favorite TV shows, read all your books, and grown tired of your arsenal of video games or other hobbies? A great idea would be to learn a new musical instrument! As a music student at Thornton, I already know a few instruments, but I’m taking this opportunity to improve my skills and even to learn a new one. Here’s a brief guide detailing some things to consider when starting out.

Photo from PXHere

The starting place for learning a new instrument is first acquiring an instrument to learn. There are many places to start for something like this, so normally it’s best to go into a physical store and talk to someone who can help you figure out what you’re looking for. Unfortunately, with coronavirus so pressing, it may be a little difficult to go somewhere like Guitar Center to get that help, and you may have to resort to ordering online. Here are a few options to help you get an idea!

For acoustic guitar: There are three examples I have for you as far as price and quality of instrument go. First, the guitar I currently play on is an older Takamine guitar, so it isn’t listed on Amazon; however a similar model is this Takamine Acoustic-Electric for $700. The professional features of a model like this include a beautifully resonant body and a dependable neck for being in tune. The biggest contributor to the cost is the “plug-in” part, with a tuner and some other fancy options on it. However, that’s an example of a very high-end instrument. The average beginner guitar that I started on when I was ten years old is the Baby Taylor for about $350. What you’re getting with this is a smaller guitar with an open body that provides nice resonance for a good sound, and still smaller distances between frets to make it easier for people with smaller hands, or just newcomers to playing guitar. And a cheap case (a necessity) is included if it is bought on Amazon! Still a little outside of your price range? Perfectly understandable if you aren’t ready to commit to a pricier instrument. The cheapest I found at first glance on Amazon is this basic beginner’s guitar set at $44.99. Included is everything you need to get started: a case, a tuner, a pick, a strap, and even extra strings! The tradeoff, though, is you may sacrifice some of its ability to keep in tune, and it might not be quite as resonant. Whatever you choose will be good for if you are just starting off!

Photo from UIHere
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