Most of the examples come from the classical repertoire, but Mannes also entertains the possibility that rock music and jazz have a powerful effect also. Discussions with jazz musicians in which they describe periods during jamming when they were “in the zone” with all players experiencing a kind of togetherness that drew them all into a unit, sometimes even involving the audience. Perhaps much of the joy of participating in jams at bluegrass events is an outgrowth (or a precursor) to the joy professional musicians experience in the jam. In fact, there is more than passing reference in the book to the loss of music as a social experience as it has moved from the parlor or campfire (or even cave) to the concert hall and, even more distanced, the recording, becoming the province of the professional muscian rather than the eager participant. Now the greater participation comes from a range of behavior from toe tapping to dancing. Mannes explores the relationship between music and movement in some detail, suggesting that it is nearly impossible not to respond to music in a physical fashion. One study suggested that knowing the muscian had an effect upon the listeners. People who attend bluegrass events can attest to the importance they find in their personal relationships with the musicians, perhaps a unique experience in musical genres. Imagine developing even a passing personal relationship with Bob Dylan or Yo Yo Ma after a concert!
In reading this book, it's difficult not to consider the role of music and rhythm in religious experience. Whether it's simple human singingin church, the swelling organ creating inner vibrations, the pervasive use of bass voices in southern gospel music, the bobbing and chanting of observant Jews before the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, whirling dervishes in the Muslim world, or the unison chants and drums of Budhists seeking oneness and less than “I,” one is driven to become one with the rhythm of the universe, to reach back to before the Big Bang to the oneness of all. By telling this story, Elena Mannes opens the possibility that music contains the key to understanding our place in the universe. This is no small feat.
The Power of Music by Elena Mannes (Walker Books, 2011, 284 Pages, $9.39 on Kindle) excites the imagination in nearly every chapter. It opens possibilities of musical experience many of us never experience either as listeners or (perhaps) as performers. Even as it reaches levels of speculation that may cause some readers to resist, the possibilities suggested for improving human experience through more extensive use and experience of music are vast and underreported. The Power of Music opens new worlds to those who are willing to experience them. I bought this book and read it on my Kindle.