The importance of feeding our minds and hearts

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Image credit: CNN

I really love the grungy gym I go to at the top of Lausanne, high above the city and the lake below. It’s got everything I need because it’s owned by a professional body-builder. Even though I’m ancient now I still push myself and lift more than most guys half my age. Forcing myself to work hard results in my body releasing more HGH which repairs tissues and keeps my body supple and strong.

But… the gym owner has atrocious taste in music.

It’s endless noise. Apparently the genre is called “rap” which I assume is an acronym for Repulsive Aural Pollution. It seems simple to create the lyrics for rap songs: one merely writes on scraps of paper the following words: motherfucker, nigger, shit, bitch, ho, jimmy choo, aston martin, kill, bro, money, drugs, and then add several more motherfuckers, fuck, and niggers. One pastes these scraps of paper at random on a board and proceeds to read them while a friend bangs a rock or two together in the background.

This saddens me immensely. It is the noise of deprivation, akin to watching a small and very unhappy child smearing feces on a wall.

The world is not bereft of beauty. If you want to listen to someone whose life was hard yet who creates astonishing sounds, listen to Baaba Maal or Toumani Diabaté or Louis Armstrong.

If you like listening to the human voice creating breathtaking harmonies, listen to anything by Palestrina or perhaps the Missa Corona Spinea by John Taverner.

You don’t have to be a student of music to appreciate Mozart, from the divine Queen of the Night’s aria to the Papageno/Papagena duet of Der Zauberflote to the stirring first movement of his Symphony 40. If you like pathos, try the Largo of Bach’s Clavierconcerto in Fmol or the well-known Air on a G-string.

The world of music, even merely that sub-set known as Western music, is rich and varied. So many have contributed. I have dozens of favorites, each of which transports me to a magical place and touches my heart beyond any pop music I’ve ever heard.

It is incomprehensible to me that anyone would spend even ten second listening to the talentless aural assault of rap.

Worse than the sheer awfulness of the noise, however, is the lyric content. These are the lyrics of deprivation, ignorance, willful stupidity, and meretricious emptiness.

When we eat, we should consume foods that nourish us: fruits, vegetables, seeds & nuts, some animal products. Otherwise we become malnourished no matter how many calories we consume. Today the USA is the first country in the world in which people can be simultaneously obese and malnourished: rickets and scurvy are making themselves felt in the Deep South. McSlop is not an appropriate diet for any creature.

Similarly when we listen to music we should hear music that nourishes us: music written to stir the heart and the mine, music of complexity that nevertheless conveys simplicity and beauty. It is not necessary to expose anyone, least of all impressionable children, to the productions of large music companies seeking to make money from exploiting the ignorance of the under-privileged.

Years ago I was driving through London on a late summer’s afternoon. I had the windows of my car down to admit the warm breeze and I was playing Pachelbel’s rondo (misnamed his Canon in D). It’s hardly possible to imagine a more simple piece of music, but the principal violin soars and swoops majestically. As I waited at a red traffic light, a Rastafarian pulled up alongside on his bicycle. He listened to the music. He leaned over to me, smiled broadly, and said, “That sure some sweet sound, man.”

Music isn’t about signaling education or affluence. It’s simply about stimulating the mind by means of beauty. It’s about becoming more than we were yesterday, about discovering parts of ourselves through discovering things we weren’t previously aware of — things that delight us, enchant us, and pull us forward into a greater appreciation of complexity and inter-dependency.

Rap, conversely, closes everything off, reduces everything to dirt and futility.

I wish there was a way to get my gym owner to play some Toumani Diabaté or Baaba Maal. It could change some lives for the better, even here in affluent Lausanne.

Who knows what it could achieve were it more widely spread.

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