#writering: listening to the world’s music

This is a guest post by Bernard Holland, author of Something I Heard.

What keeps the stars from falling on our heads? Is some kind of heavenly geometry in play? Does it steer the planets along their predictable paths, keep them more or less collision free. And what takes those ever bigger bites out of the moon each month?

Modern science tells us with some authority (and with a bow to gravity) what holds the planets up but no explanation is quite so seductive as an idea that has held Western imagination since the time of the Greeks. It is called the Music of the Spheres _ an ancient astronomy that tells us that the skies can not only be seen but heard. It bids us put down our slide rules and calculators and then let it sing to us. How dry celestial maps appear in comparison.

The Music of the Spheres suggests that as we sit at our pianos and pick out progressions from, say, g-minor to D Major we are emulating in microcosm the measurements of the heavens. Pythagoras is our ground zero for this thinking, for not only did he promote the Music of the Spheres, he measured sound vibrations here on earth and in ways that gave us the musical scales on which several thousand years of Western music are based. The ancients and not so ancients took all this seriously. If music education today adds a little culture to our lives it was once believed to be essential and taught alongside mathematics and geometry. What better way to represent the universe at work?

What does this musIc sound like? We scarcely know. Plato says we hear it from birth but push it to the back of our minds.We know it’s there but its musicology escapes us. Maybe animals hear it better. Maybe we might pay more attention.

Shakespeare said, “The earth has music for those who listen.”

-end-

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