Recently I happened to hear a song on YouTube; this song was from a popular Pakistani music show, called Coke Studio. It was in Balochi language, a language spoken in Balochistan province of Pakistan and more importantly a language that I understand nothing about. I thoroughly enjoyed the song and was so mesmerized by it that I had to listen to it many times in a loop. While I regaled in the song, a question formed in my mind. The question was: ‘Music tends to create a very subjective and personal experience for a listener, however what aspect of music makes it or breaks it for a listener? Language? Lyrics? Tune? Genre?

I recollect long ago I had asked a friend, who was Bengali, to listen to a Telugu song of my choice. He couldn’t bear to hear the song beyond few seconds. He absolutely detested it. On further probing I realized that for him it was absolutely essential to understand the lyrics to enjoy a song. It was as if, his mind stopped immediately where it recognized an unintelligible language. On another instance a friend, who spoke Kannada, made our friend, who was Marathi, listen to a hit Kannada song. Our Marathi friend not only ended up loving the tune but he also by-hearted the lyrics so that he could sing the song even though he understood nothing of it. The two incidents are a study in contrast revealing the unique and subjective experience of each music listener. For many, understanding the language of a song is more important to enjoy the song, for some the music of the song takes precedence over the language or lyrics.

That reminds me of another incident that I found quite interesting. When I was learning to play western classical on violin, the practice book had short compositions by Bach/Mozart, Beethoven and others. These compositions were rich in their musical brilliance. Most of them were only music and not songs and hence with no lyrics. When my friends used to request me to play something and I ended up playing one of these brilliant compositions and most of the time the follow-up question used to be, which song is this, what are the wordings? Can you play something we know, maybe a Bollywood song? This reveals another facet of the listener’s subjective experience. Instrumental music is enjoyed by some listeners only and only when they can recognize the equivalent songs!

I invite all readers to observe one’s own reaction next time one is exposed to new music/songs and notice what takes precedence, could as well be the starting point of knowing thyself better.

One Man’s Music is another Man’s Noise