Where Does the Music Come From?

In the introduction to this series I noted several reasons that people might have for trying to compose music. Certainly I shared the vain-glorious and suffering artist reasons when I was an adolescent. But, having left all that behind me, why did music thrust itself forward so vigorously when I was in my 50's? By that time I had no illusions of becoming famous or being hailed as the greatest thing in music since the invention of sliced bread. But I do love writing it—the very act of writing it. It fills a need in me that is hard to define, but, I think, that is helping me to retain my mental health.

I've always sought some sort of creative outlet throughout my life. I spent one winter building a model of The Cutty Sark, for example. I have mentioned a few times that my brain needs to be stimulated by puzzles and other challenges. When I don't look after myself my mental accuity drops alarmingly. For the past year I have kept track of my mental state by doing Suduko puzzles daily. There are days when I struggle with moderately easy ones, and on other days, I can zip through difficult ones almost as fast as I can write the answers. I feel fairly confident that I could maintain a fairly balanced mental state by looking after the basic demands of my body (for food, drink, sleep) and becoming absorbed in puzzles and trying to understand difficult subjects (like the contemporary postulation that everything is based on 10- or 11-dimentional strings of energy, possibly connected to other "branes"—in simplified terms: other universes). However, having a brain that likes challenges is not the same thing as a drive to compose music.

I've been thinking seriously about this for the past while (nothing like a 40-minute drive on virtually deserted highways twice a day to give one time for rumination). Usually, but not always, musically-attuned folks have a family background in musical interest. Fortunately very few of us have fathers like Leopold Mozart. I have known offspring of very talented musicians who struggle with no talent of their own. And, I have known people with strong musical talent whose families had no interest in the subject. So, there's all sorts of possibilities, as with most things human.

Along with family backgrounds, our genetic makeup and our histories help define who we are. Genetically, one can inherit certain predispositions. However, just because you have the genes to develop certain sections of your brain more readily than other areas, it does not follow that you will automatically develop a "nature-given talent." The bromide: use it or lose it applies to brain development as well as to other aspects of life and living. On the other hand, there are people with no apparent genertic predispositions who do remarkably well in areas where one would not expect them to—often as a result of hard work. In some cases apparent accidents and coincidences can lead one along paths one would not otherwise have travelled, or close certain avenues that one may have been interested in.

There have been no musicians in my family tree that I am aware of. The closest might have been my mother's father who wrote poetry. (Unfortunately, he died when I was very young, else he might have mitigated some of my family's worry and scorn when I explored the poetry route in my late teens, early twenties.) That there are generally good brains in both my maternal and paternal sides predicessors seems highly likely. I am a spitting image of my father's father who, in the one photograph I have—taken in 1893—shows the same broad forehead that some in the family call "the Brown look." My sister and one my of sons shares that same look, and I met one person a few years ago with the family name of Brown who could have been my sister's twin, though the separation of our branches of the family must have happened either just before or after they sought sanctuary in Canada from American injustice and persecution. (I come by my "anti-Americanism" honestly.)