“Why do you love music?”

“It’s because… like… well, I’ve just… music has always been a huge part of my life, and I don’t… Why can’t I think of anything to say?

I stood rigid, wringing my hands in front of my teacher’s desk, baffled that I couldn’t put my passion into words.

“I’m guessing no one’s ever asked you that question before,” Mr. Ramos said with a knowing sort of smile.

He’s right. I don’t think anyone has.

Why do I love music?

My lack of a concrete answer has less to do with a lack of passion and more to do with the fact that music engages the primal emotions–the raw parts of ourselves that don’t have words, only a telling twist of the gut and the surge of feeling that accompanies the basest parts of ourselves.

I’m being obnoxiously poetic because that’s the only way I know how to describe the joy that is music. It’s something so complicated, and yet the emotions it elicits are so incredibly simple. The question what is music? is one we’ve been contemplating in our AP Theory class, and it’s one that our teacher–the same one who asked me the question that inspired this essay–has said we will continue to think about for the rest of the year; perhaps the rest of our lives.

Music is complicated. I suppose that’s one of the reasons why I’m in love. I’ve always loved a challenge–always loved algebra, solving for x, doing logic puzzles. Music is another puzzle: which note fits in the triad? What chord progression am I hearing? What is it that makes this melody sweet or haunting or nostalgic? There are so many details in music, and the beauty is always in the details. Whether it’s picking out the voices in a piece or balancing your own part with the rest of the band or analyzing the score, every aspect of music involves details, a sort of puzzle to fit together; and I love it.

Music is simple. The ultimate musical paradox: complex causes and simple effects. There are times when suddenly the chord progression and the cadences and the accents don’t matter anymore and it is pure emotion, a sweeping symphony that isn’t analyzed but rather felt. Scientifically, it is music engaging a different part of the brain. Spiritually, it is music engaging the soul.

Music is the language of God. It is the way He speaks to us when words do not suffice; and it is the way we speak back to him. How else can pieces like Bach’s Violin Partita “Ciaccona” reflect so vividly a controlled grief, or Philip Glass’s “Knee Play 5” the captivating voice of an autistic poet, or Schubert’s “Erlkonig” a spirit of deep fear and foreboding? There is a depth to music not found anywhere else in the universe, a gift God has given His creation that is profound and beautiful–reflecting the core of our Creator Himself. Music allows us to connect to God and His joy, to divulge our deep sorrows, to sing “the tune without the words” when words cannot suffice to express our souls.

Music is without borders. I listen to Percy Grainger’s personal performance of “Country Gardens” and sense the begrudging annoyance with which he plays it–no culture or language needs to explain the careless and hurried manner with which he treats the piece. (His most requested piece something so simple and so far from his capabilities as a composer, it’s laughable. He rushes through, desperate to make a poor job of it so that people will stop requesting it. It doesn’t work.) I listen to LoPresti’s “Elegy for a Young American” and feel the raging grief deep in my gut; I don’t need to know that the piece was composed after the JFK assassination for a nation numb with despair. These emotions are universal–neither the time nor the culture matters.

Music transcends all boundaries and simply is. Beethoven’s symphonies draw out the same emotions today that they did a hundred years ago. Music lasts. As someone who identifies with more than one culture, always believing home to be the place where I’m not, this kind of stability is beautiful. My surroundings may change, but an Asian violinist plays with the same passion that an American one does–music is colorblind, and it is where I make a home for myself.

In the end, music is home. I grew up with ABBA and Roxette, my mother switching to the Jazz station when it was just her and I in the car. In elementary school, I would set my alarm an hour earlier than I needed to just so I could lay in bed listening to the Christian radio station before school. I’ve been known to hide in the corner by the aux cord at class get-togethers because I’m feeling introverted and the music is like aerodynamic energy. And as clever as I find John Cage, I don’t often listen to 4’33”–I’ve always got a tune in my head, my foot tapping a beat, or a song playing over my speakers.

I feel most at home when I have music, and I feel most alive.

Call me corny–because there’s really no other way to express this–but music is the heart and soul of everything I do. Talk to anyone I know about whether I love music–my parents will roll their eyes and wonder aloud why I’ve always got Spotify open; my friends will tell you about how hard I’ve worked to learn tuba and be the best band member I can be; my classmates will complain that I’m always humming something in the hallways or in class or anywhere I find myself. I don’t mean to click rhythms with my teeth or tap my desk with my fingers or use the spare seconds when I’m alone in my apartment’s elevator to burst into impassioned songs from Les Miserables (and then awkwardly cut off as the doors open again)–these things are just a part of who I am.

If I don’t study music, I am not myself. From the minute I “auditioned” for a role in my kindergarten class’s musical, I was a music student. There has never been a moment for the rest of my life where I have not been in a choir, orchestra, music class, or musical theater. I simply don’t know any other way–to me, music is the heart of life, and to be without music is to lose the heart of who God has made me to be.

The Lord gives each one of us passions. To some, He’s given quick feet and lithe muscles. To others, He’s given minds to comprehend incredible concepts of physics the rest of us can’t even imagine. To me… well, He’s given me a passion that I can write a spontaneous 1233 word essay on that doesn’t even begin to cover what I feel for it.

He’s given me music.

He’s given me life.

And to me… that’s nearly one in the same.

So there is my answer to the question that I can’t even begin to cover. Why do I love music? I still can’t think of a quick and easy answer; and I don’t think I ever will. In the words of another author who possesses much more brevity and skill than I:

“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.” – Victor Hugo