A Thousand Words for Love

So, let’s get the facts out of the way: the Eskimos don’t have twenty-four or some other inordinate number of words for snow.

While this is an urban legend, the concept it tries to highlight is a real one; it’s called “focal vocabulary”. Linguists use that as a term to highlight instances where humans develop words to distinguish nuanced differences when necessary. The multiple words for snow faux-example illustrates a further aspect of this: that nuanced distinctions that are so clear to one culture so as to require separate terms can be glossed over by another culture by using just one word.

There’s a better, real example that we’re actually familiar with: “love”. In English, we use “love” to denote a number of different, nuanced emotions. Many of us are familiar with the fact that in Ancient Greek there are multiple terms that we translate using “love”, for example agape versus eros. But most people are OK understanding the differences because they have some awareness, even if unconscious, of the distinctions implicit in the English word, if only based on usage and context. No one mistakes “I love you, man!” for “I love you, darling”.

But when we lack discrete, distinct terms, it’s easy to miss distinctions. For a number of reasons, even before we may have been made aware of the different terms in Ancient Greek, we knew there were different kinds of love between people. We knew because (most of us at least) felt the differences when we used the term with our parents and then our romantic partners because the differences are stark and clear to nearly all of us.

But if the differences are nuanced, subtle, and there’s nothing to prick our awareness to notice the differences it’s easy to go through life and never recognize that distinction. And in a way, when we miss distinctions like this,our experience of life is poorer for it. We miss the chance to understand, glory in, and relish the differences.

And so when our awareness is pricked and we become aware of distinctions that language and usage have left us previously blind to, it can be an amazing and rewarding process of discovery. Because, once you understand there are differences you’ve been blind to, you first want to understand all those differences, understand what makes this one what it is and what makes that one what it is.

What does this have to do with music and this blog? Simple really. As I was contemplating the post I promised in The Mind of the Composer, I was going to write about how I love the music that Bear McCreary has done. But I love other music too, and I love his work ways that are different from those other pieces. Contemplating the different ways I love (and have fallen in love with) those different pieces, I found myself thinking that it would be an interesting exercise with the blog moving forward, to try and understand those different kinds of “love” the underpin the same word. When I say I love McCreary’s Passacaglia

how is that different from how I love Barber’s Adagio

or even from McCreary’s The Shape of Things to Come

which is a piece that is very similar and yet different from Passacaglia?

And so it struck me that there’s a whole angle to take in my writing here, one that tries to understand the differences in pieces that I love. Not from the point of view of technical differences, historical differences but rather from the simple point of view of understanding what I mean, what I really mean when I say I love something or have fallen in love with it.

My friend Jenny has always said how she loves me sharing my music because she loves what it means to me, how my sharing that is sharing a part of me and that my love for it is infectious. And,Juli-Ann in her comments on Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n noted “What I really appreciate about your writing approach is the deep emotional connection you make with music. It is a vivid reminder to me to simply experience the music and enjoy the emotional journey. To allow myself to forget the years of music theory and analysis, turn off the intellectual side, and feel the music in my body and soul.”

When I think about that all, I realize that trying to understand what I mean by “love” is really a more directed exercise to those points they both raise. So, I think I’ll be doing some posts from time to time, now, that try to explain what I mean when I say I “love” something.