“Awesome May Not Mean What You Think it Means

awesome superman“That was awesome!” Really? Any more, I’m not sure exactly what that means.

Awesome, used like this, is a descriptor, a label, a name. What does awesome mean? It should have a definite meaning, but unfortunately today it means what we think it means. Oh yeah, it has a dictionary definition but we think the dictionary is out of touch with today’s modern usage. If you rely on the dictionary meaning you will communicate with about 5% of the population. (If you are curious, look up the definition of awesome, you might be surprised).

Standards are low. But, what is my evidence of low standards? The abysmal way in which we use the word awesome. If you can get enough people to repeat and buy into your new definition, it will stick in everyone’s mind and it will become the default definition.

Before we realize it, we begin using awesome in a careless way, almost as a by-phrase that really means nothing.

How was your trip? Awesome!
Want a cherry popsicle? Awesome!
This is free. Awesome!

Low standards. For some, that is awesome.

Image Credit: Pixabay.com

Sometimes, sound can behave so strangely

singer

Photo Credit: Anthony Maragou

Have you ever considered the tonal sound of language as being an integral part to understanding that language? Dr. Diana Deutsch does work in the psychology of music, but what she has discovered about tone and pitch has a lot to do with the epistemology of language. Often we hear words spoken and we do not think much about it, so it passes in and out of our memory quite easily.

However, at other times, we hear words or a phrase in our mind over and over as though it was embedded there by some strange force. Have you ever gone through the day singing a song over and over in your head? That may be because it has a memorable sing-song quality to it or it has an unusually appealing sound, easy to remember because it fits into a rhythmic pattern in your mind. Language can behave similarly – and can have a sing-song cadence or musical attraction that loops continuously in our head. Some quotes are memorable, not just for the import of the message, but also because of the rhythmic appeal that lends itself to memorization. Think of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, “The Bells,” or the urban staccato of Gwendolyn Brook’s “We Real Cool.”

By designing our communication with tone and pitch in mind we may be able to increase it’s recall. It is reported that someone once asked Charles Spurgeon, the esteemed and memorable English preacher of the 19th century, what made him so quotable. His response was that he read authors who were quotable! What Spurgeon may not have understood was that memorable speech has a certain form and sound, and by studying those speakers and writers he was able to replicate the qualities of memorable speech.

There is a reason our teachers wanted us to practice our speech before an audience and a singer tries out new songs on a small audience first. Words are best spoken, not written, and only when speaking can we hear the still small voice of the musical muse within each of us.

Listen to Radio Lab’s interview with Diana Deutsch and hear for yourself how sound sometimes behaves so strangely!

Photo Credit: Anthony Maragou

Are you playing notes or playing music?

trumpet

Credit: publicdomainpictures.net

I was an unusual kid (in some ways). For one, I liked classical music. Blame it on Looney Tunes, I guess. Bugs Bunny as The Barber of Seville is a classic! Whether or not that was the genesis of my interest in classical music, I did develop an amateur appreciation for classical music. Granted, I never learned to play an instrument, so I am missing out on some of the finer points of refined listening. I may not fully understand the technical complexities of music, but I do know what I like and I know if it sounds good or not.

Over time, I have discovered the difference between playing notes and playing music. Playing notes is the foundation of music but it does not necessarily equal playing music. I can finger the notes perfectly on an instrument but it may lack “flow.” Flow is what makes music beautiful. Flow is when the musician effortlessly plays each note and creates a beautiful experience. He is one with the instrument – in fact, the instrument is just an extension of his being, a different voice with which he speaks and sings. Flow is when the musician loves his art and tenderly expresses himself in his wonderful, melodic language. Love of music drives the musician and his love is passion, understanding, and expression rolled into one.

When I listen to music, I don’t hear notes; instead, I hear weeping and joy. I experience the music instead of just listening to it and this transcends the passivity of being in the audience; I am brought into the moment with the musician. Although I cannot feel what he is feeling, I can at least understand what he is feeling and I am made richer for the experience.

Everyone plays music of one sort of another. In the symphony of life, we have many things to do. Of course, we can get through life, punching the clock, doing what is required, doing what is expected. But that is only doing the minimum; it is the difference between “have to” and “want to.” I suppose “have to” can be satisfying, in a way, but it does not satisfy the soul. We can do our work and make busy, or we can perform our work and make meaning. It is the difference between getting the job done and doing the job well.

Our calling, whatever it may be, is our music. Don’t be satisfied with just playing the notes.