The Power of Art

I am hopeful that my photographs strike an emotional chord thereby enabling the viewer, if just for a moment, to step out of his or her limited sense of self. I was reminded of this phenomenon this past weekend.

A friend and I have just returned from our annual pilgrimage to the Bach festival in Bethlehem, PA. Discussing the generally recognized sacred nature of Bach’s music and our own individual thoughts and experiences in listening to the live performances, the following idea arose:

Just as a cello is made up of strings, a box of wood, and the air in the box (among other components) and these components taken together, when played by the Cellist, create sound that has an effect on the environment, and the cello is but a component of the orchestra, and the orchestra is but a component of the orchestra-choir collaboration, we too, as listeners, whose emotional chords are plucked ever so effectively by the music, begin to vibrate. It occurs to me that I am not big enough an observer to see that the vibration of my own emotion, like the vibration of the strings on a cello, like the sound emanating from the living, breathing orchestra (watching the players as they respond to the conductor, it seems that they rise and fall as one like the heartbeat of a living being), is nothing more than a component in the performance.

The conductor moves his baton, the strings of the cello vibrate with the bow, the strings of the harpsichord vibrate when plucked, the vocal cords of the choir members and soloists vibrate, all sending a wave of sound into the air (and how wonderful it was to be sitting in the air that was disturbed by the single note of the harpsichord and to realize that classical music, like jazz, can be like a desert to me when played on the radio, but a lush garden when experienced in live performance). The wave of sound overtakes me and I have an emotional response in one moment, and in another moment I am impelled to close my eyes and find myself in a state of mind I associate with the practice of Transcendental Meditation.

Both my friend and I had strong emotional reactions to various of the pieces performed. If the “vibration” of our emotions (not a physical vibration, but something I am not big enough to see because it is an effect beyond the realm of my sensory mechanism) can be viewed as similar to the vibration of the strings on the cello or the vibration of the vocal cords of the vocalists, might not my participation in listening to the music be nothing more than a component in the performance when viewed from an expanded perspective.

If indeed there is a “vibration” of emotion, then, like the sound of the cello contributing to the performance, by virtue of living and responding to this beautiful music I am nothing more than a component of the musical performance. With this perspective, I can imagine that every phenomenon is nothing more than a component in a sacred orchestral piece. Is it possible, informed by this point of view, that at the moment I put my attention on Bach’s “Mass in B Minor”, for example, that piece can be viewed as the music that overtakes the universe (cello contributes to orchestral music contributes to orchestral-choir collaboration contributes to my emotional response contributes to how I interact with the world contributes to how the world exists (at least for me))? And if this is possible, might not the same be said of any other successful work of art, or indeed any other point of focus?