Sound is one of the primordial elements connected with the development of Man. Even before we are born, we are surrounded by sounds – the steady pounding of a mother’s heartbeat, distant muted voices, the gurgling and swish of fluid all around us. As children, we may enjoy banging on pots and pans, creating a beat and a rhythm, but it is much later, when melody and song appear that we experience the wondrous creation that is music. The arrangement and artful combination of sounds, the organization of notes and patterns into a flowing composition is what makes music the unique art it is.
From the mellow intonation of a gong in a monastery to the vocal arts of the monks, the strains of a single string instrument to the beat of a two-handed drum, music shares an equal footing with dance in Asia, where it is an everyday art. Dance may be considered somewhat dependent on music for “completeness”; music has no such difficulty – it can easily exist on its own.
No festival in Asia is considered a success without local musicians who play for hours on end; no wedding could take place without a band to herald the arrival of the bride and the move to a new home, a new family. Music accompanies bhajan singers in temples, it is the soft, woeful sound of a flute in the highland areas. It can conjure memories and pull our deepest emotions to the surface.
Music, like dance, requires patience, technical skill, creativity, and emotional breadth and depth. The instruments that create it vary from pieces of wood or clay to metal or skin. Their sound may be sharp or dull, deep or high-pitched. Every artist brings with him his own personal experience and this gives flavor to the music. In this, music and dance are very much alike; they are both dependent on the innate skills of an artist to be able to translate thoughts, emotions, and stories into something which can be communally understood.