Music and lyrics

A recent thread on harmony got me thinking about a debate my father and I used to have…one of those every day things that I miss very much now that he’s passed.

Dad was not a lyrics man. He preferred classical music and instrumentals because he felt that “lyrics limit your imagination and emotional reaction to the music”.

I can appreciate his perspective, at least on a conceptual level, but I’ve always been a big lyrics person. I also enjoy classical and instrumental music very much, but I think of it the same way I think of vegetarian food. It isn’t an either/or situation. I don’t eat vegetarian/vegan food as a replacement for anything. I eat everything, including veggie/vegan, because I enjoy the taste for it’s own sake.

I also think that I enjoy music on multiple levels simultaneously. Listening to a song with lyrics causes my brain to simply split off the verbal story from the music, then happily appreciates both on completely different levels. If I happen to like the lyrics but not care for the music, I appreciate it more like poetry. If I happen to like the music but not care for the lyrics, I’ll downplay the narrative and concentrate on enjoying the tune. When both come together with equal levels of appreciation, I consider that a great piece.

I have favorite poems and favorite pieces of lyric-less music. But there is something special and unique and goose-bump raising about the pieces that can strike that harmonic in my brain with both.

A lyric makes you think.

 Music makes you feel.

 A song makes you feel a thought
                               -------E. Y. Harburg

I treat the lyrics as the musical score for the vocal instrument. I don’t pay attention to the lyrics as ‘meaningful’ discourse. Just as another melodic line in the harmonics. The human voice is very versatile and some of the timbres out there (especially those female ethereal ones) are just amazing. Check out these collaborations by Delerium : Innocente, Myth, A Poem for Byzantium, Silence

When it comes right down to it, good music can compensate for crappy lyrics (and most song lyrics are crap) but if the tune is crappy then even the most brilliant lyrics can’t save the song.

Maybe someone should tell Roger Waters that.