The Other I

February 8, 2017

My 4th dimension

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 11:58 am

Music . . .

can name the unnameable

and communicate the unknowable

Leonard Bernstein

For whatever mix of genetic and environmental influences, I have been predominantly an analytic thinker most of my life.  That has made me a good organizer, a committed researcher, fairly good at mathematics, not a complete loss in relation to physics.  I choose to read articles on economics rather than poetry, political analyses rather than fiction, to write about theories of intelligence rather than the history of art.

The one glaring exception to this rational analysis all my life has been music.  It possibly hasn’t saved my life.  But I think it has saved my sanity.  Or perhaps more accurately, it has added a completely new dimension to my life and consciousness.


The arts – whether it be painting, poetry, sculpture, music, or literature- addresses a reality which is beyond human analysis or reason.  The meaning of life, of love, of beauty, of loyalty, of faithfulness, the purpose or at least the usefulness of suffering, of death, or loss can, of course, be discussed philosophically.  But the arts are beyond words and can give us a direct experience of their mystery in a way that analysis can’t.

I am not suggesting we don’t need analysis or that it is an inferior source of wisdom compared to the arts.  We need analysis to save us from superstition, from unsubstantiated conclusions, even from the arrogance of the certainty that ignorance so often supports.

Nor do all the arts speak equally to everyone.  In fact, I think education has failed too many by failing to distinguish between the ability to analyze the arts and to appreciate them.  First of all, I think we should be encouraged to discover which arts speak to us personally.  Is it music? poetry?  painting?  Would you rather go to a concert tonight or a museum?  Would you rather go through a park dotted with sculpture or sit comfortably reading a great work of literature?  And when we look or listen, the first question we should ask is how it speaks to us, not whether we can categorize it as if we were being asked a test question.

For me, the great classical works, especially of Beethoven and Mozart, and paradoxically, folk music, have been my great avenues to this other world of mystery beyond rational analysis.  I have also just recently discovered what a difference the conductor can make in my appreciation.  I grew up in Ohio and even as a child was taken to listen to George Szell conduct the Cleveland Orchestra.  But today, the exuberance and energy of Leonard Bernstein takes me into that other world in a new way.  My reserved brother who knows more about music than I do thinks Szell is far better.  But I think our different assessments are equally due to differences between us.  Bernstein’s exuberance does not speak to him as it does to me but gets in the way and he prefers Szell’s reserve which I personally find just a little inhibiting.

Whatever our particular preferences and whatever art may speak most strongly to us, I think the human psyche needs the arts to reach our fullest wisdom as much as we need food and shelter.  And analysis.

Because art is beyond words.  It can name the unnameable.  And communicate the unknowable.




  1. Very well said. Sometimes I’ve wondered if it isn’t one more form of seduction!


    Comment by tskraghu — February 8, 2017 @ 2:59 pm | Reply

    • Oh yes, a form of seduction! I wish I had thought of saying that. Because although art can open us up to new worlds, it can also blind us. Hitler knew that, didn’t he? And the Soviet Union also. Come to think of it, as a young teenager, the nuns at school refused to let us watch Elvis Presley on television, on the grounds that his music was too overtly sexy. Whew! looks mild compared to today’s standards.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Terry Sissons — February 8, 2017 @ 3:19 pm | Reply

  2. Bernstein was a big part of my musical education. His exuberance excited me as it did you, Terry. Especially the Russians. He had a Sunday afternoon TV show in NY in which he deconstructed various musical works, and my older brother had records with him doing the same thing.

    I envy you your exposure to Sczell. We heard him over WQXR, the classical music station, along with Reiner in Chicago, Munch in Boston and — my favorite because he did everything well — Ormandy in Philadelphia. I got to hear Ormandy there toward the end of his career. I still consider Reiner tops for Beethoven and Ormandy all-around and for the sound he uniquely got out of that orchestra (he cheated, I late found out).

    Von Karajan was considered for the job in NY after the war but was turned down because of his Nazi membership.


    Comment by Thomas J. Hubschman — February 8, 2017 @ 10:05 pm | Reply

    • Yes, I was very fortunate to be taken as a youngster to hear the Cleveland Orchestra with George Szell. Of course, I had no idea at the time how fortunate – in that way and in a myriad other ways. It’s ironic that it should make me feel guilty sometimes that I was so late in feeling grateful.

      But I do envy you your exposure to Bernstein. I’ve only recently discovered the mass of u-tubes of Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts. Some of them are just superb. And you know, Tom, he seems such a likable man. At the very least, a brilliant teacher.

      But now you have me wondering what my responses specifically to Ormandy and Reiner might be. I wonder if he could possibly top Bernstein’s conducting Beethoven. It will be fun finding out. Thank you.


      Comment by theotheri — February 9, 2017 @ 5:22 pm | Reply

  3. Bravo, Terry, for this elegant piece. Music . . . . one of the greatest gifts on earth.


    Comment by Delia McGrath — February 9, 2017 @ 6:20 am | Reply

    • Ah yes, Delia, it is a great gift. That’s really what I was thinking when I wrote the post. But as Raghu points out in his comment, he also sees it as a kind of seduction. And it’s true. Music can energize us to do terrible things to our fellow human. Is there an army in the world that doesn’t have a band to maximize their effectiveness in beating the enemy? It’s almost as if music can maximize our pleasure, whether it is for good or bad, right or wrong. I think it’s like fire – we can be hugely grateful for its benefit, but we must use it with care and love and wisdom.

      I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this.


      Comment by theotheri — February 9, 2017 @ 5:28 pm | Reply

  4. I think maybe half my religious feeling as a child was due to the music I heard in church. I’m pretty sure the organist played the exquisite slow movement from Cesar Franck’s Organ Symphony during the communion, making the stained-glass windows of the old church vibrate audibly, and her War March of the Priests (Mendellsohn) as the recessional for the nine-o’clock Sunday children’s mass made me feel like I was levitating.


    Comment by Thomas J. Hubschman — February 11, 2017 @ 4:54 pm | Reply

    • Tom – what an gripping insight! The RC church has always appreciated the value of music, hasn’t it? even decreeing some music could only be performed in the Sistine chapel (until Mozart was able to reproduce it from *memory*). And of course the Calvinists believed that music was positively deceptive and they forbade it. I’ve never met any one who said, though, that they could actually point to music as the kind of force you describe in forming their faith. But I bet you’re not the only one. For better or worse, it didn’t happen for me -even though my grandfather made his living as a musician and was a church organist. Maybe because we were in a different parish?


      Comment by Terry Sissons — February 11, 2017 @ 5:07 pm | Reply

  5. Terry, wonderful reflections on music and the arts. Years ago, when my husband Joe and I were living in Milwaukee, our sons were babies and it was the coldest winter there in 10 years. Well, five Maryknoll
    sisters, who were studying at Marquette to become doctors, lived down the street from us. In talking with Susie Jenlense (spelling?), Sr. Marie Paulette, (your group), I asked her how she relaxed, given the heavy study schedule. She said: “By reading literature.” Thus she shared with me and Joe each book she completed. All were memorable, especially Swedish novelists I never heard of before.
    Earlier at Brooklyn College, the book that made me a pacifist was in European history class: “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Remarque. Other books in subsequent years, changed my life: Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” Proust’s “Remembrance of Times Past,” Hemmingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter,” Simone de Beauvoir “The Second Sex,” Stendhal’s “The Charthouse of Parma,” Toni Morison’s “Beloved,” Balzac’s “Lost Illusions”….better stop now in bowing to these writers in thanksgiving.
    Am sure they led me to poetry, as did hearing Robert Bly and Alice Walker read in San Jose. So did music, lead me to poetry, especially dancing to Elvis Presley and Fats Domino at the parish dances during high school.
    I used to be a volunteer usher at SF opera house: highlights: hearing Pavarotti in “Le Boehme,” Alfredo Kraus in “Werther,” the romantic-religious opera Verdi’s “Don Carlos”, seeing ”Evelyn Cisneros in “Sleeping Beauty” etc. I like the Zen/Taoist view that everything is inter-related, gardening, cooking, caring for others, writing, hiking, sharing a meal, composing music, protesting with others for peace….
    All are creative/artistic ways of being alive. Meditation in action. As are your reflections in “The Other.” Gracias.


    Comment by Carolyn Grassi — February 13, 2017 @ 7:06 pm | Reply

  6. Your own examples are quite different from mine. But at the same time, they are examples of exactly what I mean. Different arts speak to each of us. But they are so often the gateway to the world beyond analytical reason – wonderful as that reasoning ability may be. Thank you for taking the time to comment.


    Comment by theotheri — February 16, 2017 @ 2:54 pm | Reply

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