It’s obvious to all that music is influential:
* Who hasn’t wept at the strains of “Danny Boy” or “Taps?”
* Brass bands playing marches energize every audience.
* “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” has stirred people to action since 1861.
* “The Star Spangled Banner” rouses even tepid Americans as they recall the men who voluntarily gave up their lives to hold the flag a loft all during the night battle to convince the British fleet that “our flag was still there” despite hours of targeted shelling.
* New Orleans jazz evokes the bitter-sweet aspects of everyone’s life.
* Since radios became popular, each generation of young adults has fallen in love with the kind assistance of “Moon Glow,” “In the Mood,” “Wonderful Tonight,” “She’s Always A Woman to Me,” or “Thinking Out Loud.”
Five to seven hundred years after David used music to calm King Saul’s fits of insanity , the Greek philosophers opined that music education was necessary for young students in order to train them to control and direct their passions in order to live worthy lives.
A recent paper* by Dr. Thomas R. Lawson of St. Anselm College in New Hampshire illustrates their ideas: “Socrates claims that a good musical formation “tunes” a man, so to speak, so things that are truly good (as judged by reason), cause him sensual delight, whereas bad things (again, as judged by reason) cause him pain, disgust, or some other appropriate negative emotional or visceral response: “Furthermore, it is sovereign because the man properly reared on rhythm and harmony would have the sharpest sense for what’s been left out and what isn’t a fine product of craft or what isn’t a fine product of nature. And, due to his having the right kind of dislikes, he would praise the fine things; and, taking pleasure in them and receiving them into his soul, he would be reared on them and become a gentleman. He would blame and hate the ugly in the right way while he’s still young, before he’s able to grasp reasonable speech.””
So, 2500 years ago, the Greeks considered music education as a method of instilling moral values and helping their children develop into the best version of themselves. Our advances in technology have made music readily available to almost every one, not just the wealthy. Following Socrates’ and Plato’s lead, today earnest young parents play classical music recordings to their babies while still in the womb, but the idea is the same.
As I’ve been saying, beauty is everywhere – every area of nature, science, art, architecture, music, prose, poetry, and human interaction. But some of us need to educate ourselves before we can more fully enjoy the pleasures of beauty.
Beauty in nature, art, and literature were always easy for me to see. I got a vague understanding of the relationship of math to music when I began to play the piano in grade school. (I didn’t last long enough to perform well, but I did develop a love for good music.) I began to appreciate the people who relentlessly offered the world beautiful reactions to ugly provocations as a teenager facing the vagaries of growing up.
Only recently, have I begun to observe the beauty of numbers, largely through a book, The Way of Beauty by David Clayton:
“We are used to the idea today of numbers being used to communicate quantity — that is, to answer the questions of how much? or howmany? This is unchanged from the past. However, we are not so used today to the idea that number can convey a quality. . . . . through a symbolism. . . .
“Although most people today are unaware of the idea of symbolic number and harmonious proportions, when presented with the beauty that it reflects, they respond. Millions of people visit Oxford every year. When they come as tourists, they do not head on the whole for the modern housing estates or industrial buildings on the outskirts of the city. Rather, they go to the older center of the town. . . . These tourists very likely do not know why they find these buildings beautiful, but they know that they do. . . .”
Another example of numbers being symbolic as well as used for measuring, is found in Francesco Giorgi’s notes from his 16th Century plans for building a church in Venice:
““April 1, 1535 – In order to build the fabric of the church with those fitting and very harmonious proportions which one can do without altering anything that has been done, I should proceed in there following manner. I should like the width of the nave to be nine paces which is the square of three, the first and divine number. The length of the nave, which will be twenty-seven will have a triple proportion, which makes a diapason and a dispense. And this is the mysterious harmony that when Plato in the times wished to describe the wonderful consonance of the arts and fabric of the world, he took this as the first foundation of his description.”
“The fact that this was not an unusual approach and that the use of these numbers was not limited to the profession of architecture at this time is demonstrated by looking at the people who assessed Giorgio’s report. On reception of the Memorandum, the Doge consulted a committee of three experts who had to approve it before he would implement it, which they did. The three were a philosopher (a humanist called Sansovino), a famous architect called Sergio, and an artist, who was no less than Titian.””
“The scientist does not study nature because it is useful to do so. He studies it because he takes pleasure in it, and he takes pleasure in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful it would not be worth knowing, and life would not be worth living.
I am not speaking, of course, of the beauty which strikes the senses, of the beauty of qualities and appearances. I am far from despising this, but it has nothing to do with science. What I mean is that more intimate beauty which comes from the harmonious order of its parts, and which a pure intelligence can grasp.”
My Mid-summer Protective Shield from Slings and Arrows:
the view from my dining table where St. Francis needs to be rescued from wisteria
Walking in beauty is not something reserved for the rich and famous. Beauty is for everyone, everywhere. It is there for the taking by observation, by hearing, by selecting, or by using. Obtaining it for oneself requires mindfulness more than money. Use it daily in your life to enjoy, to console, to inspire, and to change. Delighting in beauty is a bedrock of a happy life because that awareness helps us to gratefully notice the good things that come our way.
One’s home, whether house, apartment, or dormitory room, is probably the first place to consider in choosing beauty. For home is where we go each day to recover from “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” There is where we rest, refresh, and restore. So we owe it to ourselves to make our space beautiful for us.
Whenever buying any necessity, no matter how small your budget, think first of what delights your eye, whether selecting a trash bin or a chair for the living room. For example, if you need to get a new dust pan anyway, buy the blue or red one unless janitorial grey really is your favorite color. That way, there is one less reason to hate the process of cleaning house. As you choose the tools for living needed in each room, always select the one with the color or form that speaks to you. Even a dish scrubber can make your heart sing – see the July 18, blog post, “Is This Beautiful?”
“To thine own self be true”. . . Shakespeare
Never mind the “decorating” magazines; be true to your own tastes when arranging your home. Home is our refuge, where we can most be ourselves and indulge in our desires for color, art, arrangements, furniture, etc. that we love. It’s where we shine, revealing our true selves. Revel in your choices whenever you get to make them for your home, and decide on the object that most “speaks” to you or to you and your roomie.
If you have to live with what has been given to you even though you hate it, consider making it less ugly. Budgeteers quickly find that paint is their best friend because it remains the cheapest and quickest way to change the looks of any thing. Paint companies continuously work to make painting easier for us amateurs. If the chairs around your dining table don’t match, paint them all the same color to reduce the disparity. And the table can always be a different color or finish. Or if the table is hopelessly ugly, throw a sheet over it for camouflage, then add place mats or tablecloth on top before setting the table.
Improvise until you can afford better. Occasionally, you’ll end up loving your ugly duckling too much to ever let it go.
“Life is so full of unpredictable beauty and strange surprises. Sometimes that beauty is too much for me to handle. Do you know that feeling? When something is just too beautiful? When someone says something or plays something that moves you to the point of tears, maybe even changes you.”
Mark Oliver Everett, Things The Grandchildren Should Know
To choose beauty is one of the most beneficial choices one can make. It entails becoming mindful of the world around you and the people who inhabit it rather than spending all of one’s time, attention, and energy rushing to complete the next task or running away from harsh reality with mindless pursuits. It’s not so much a matter of wealth, for many humble things are beautiful. Nor is it a matter of taste, for taste is somewhat subjective, dependent upon current zeitgeist. No, it is a matter of observation.
Beauty is the choice to contemplate, to notice, to discern, and to pay attention. While skimming, peeking or glancing may be sufficient in a few situations, those activities will most frequently obscure beauty, rather than reveal it. To choose to see the beauty we encounter every day is much more important now than when the admonition to “take time to smell the roses” first became popular. The advances in technology that should have freed us from tedious labor, have instead encouraged the tedious distraction of an artificial virtual environment.
A simple way to take back one’s life is to consciously buy, keep, and use only objects of beauty that make you happy every time you look at them. Get rid of the clunkers. Don’t clutter your environment with things that do not delight you while using them.
A case in point is the item pictured above – my most recent beautiful acquisition. It efficiently removes food stuck to pans or plates before the dishwasher takes over. It is gentle to the good plates and gentle to my fingers. It’s a bright, happy color. And every time I look at it, I remember Gina. She made it herself and gave it to me with joy shining in her eyes. I fondly remember Gina each time I use the beautiful gift she graciously gave me for no reason at all, except that she loved giving. She is even more beautiful than her gift.