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Where did music begin?  Why do people need their music, and what made them think of melody and rhythm?  Who was the first – hominid?  Australopithicine?  Homo ergaster?  Neanderthal?   Homo sapiens? – who thought of music?  And how did it begin?

It was long thought that the first instrument capable of producing music was a hollow bone with holes drilled in it.  Voila!  The flute was born!  But that leaves out a whole realm of musical expression, it seems to me.

Think about this a minute.  Someone pounds two rocks together and, before he or she even knows it, there’s rhythm.  This is pleasing and makes the work of pounding rocks into, who knows what?  Scrapers, weapons or maybe just smaller rocks?  Perhaps the rhythm of the pounding brought a smile to the face of the pounder.  Perhaps others joined in.  The first true rock band was born!

Think about this a minute.  Someone pounds two rocks together and, before he or she even knows it, there’s rhythm.

Did someone figure out how to whistle?  If ancient mothers were like mine, they each had a special whistle they used to summon the kids.  Two or three tones, two or three tones:  music.  If they knew how to whistle, how far could it be to making melodies?  And we have always heard melody in the sounds of insects and animals, and sometimes we’re able to mimic these sounds.  More melody.

And then, of course, there’s that magic flute.  No one knows with certainty that it was actually used as a musical instrument, but what else could it be?  You couldn’t hunt with it.  You couldn’t carry water with it or start a fire or sew clothes with sinew.  So it makes music.  What music?  And why?

Just as there is a need for things like order, predictability, love, there seems to be something in us that responds to music.

Just because no one’s ever found the remains of an e-string, who’s to say that our ancestors never figured out the logic behind the shortening and lengthening of a “string,” whatever it may have been made of, to produce melody.  (Doesn’t this bring to mind a group of, say, Denisovians, crouched around a camp fire with their proto-Strads entertaining the others in the community and keeping the predators at bay?  Just picture it.  Humor me.  The first chamber music ensemble.)

So now we come to the central question:  why do we need music?  What is it about melody and rhythm, tones and harmonies that we find so satisfying?

Just as there is a need for things like order, predictability, love, there seems to be something in us that responds to music.  Did you hear the Chamber Ensemble of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields?  If you were in the audience, you know exactly what I mean.  The rhythms, the melodies, the harmonies worked on a whole series of synapses in your brain and brought a sense of order and perhaps of profound emotions such as joy and sorrow.  If you didn’t hear that concert, you will have a feeling of regret; but remember, you have four more chances to try to understand why music speaks to us – and always has.

Your next opportunity to experience the music of the ages is Nov. 8 with the Zemlinksy String Quartet.

– E Doyle

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