By: Hillel Field  | 

Expanding Your Musical Horizons

My morning trek from my apartment to class takes approximately seven minutes, give or take a few depending on my level of enthusiasm and the whims of traffic lights. Since the Washington Heights area isn't exactly known for its scenic vistas, this routine can become monotonous quickly. As a longtime music lover, I figured after a few days that I might as well treat myself to a tune or two to occupy this chunk of time. A little musical pick-me-up in the morning would be a nice way to get the blood pumping. To keep things slightly interesting, I decided that I would discipline myself to press shuffle on my iPhone and avoid the skip button like the plague. After all, at some point I enjoyed a certain song enough to add it to my library. How could I betray my carefully informed choice with a dismissive skip?

What began as a casual way to pass the time by soon became something I look forward to. Armed with my backpack and a pair of standard Apple earbuds, I embrace this ritual that animates the usual morning trudge by giving each day its own unique soundtrack. I have also learned a couple valuable lessons from this practice. On a practical level, getting yourself absorbed in music while walking the city streets can lead to a remarkable ignorance of oncoming traffic, so don’t forget about your surroundings. More importantly, though, I came to realize how music can transport you places, much like reading an enjoyable book can.

I can't claim to be a musical connoisseur of the highest caliber. But I can say that with the help of my morning custom, I have been able to expand my tastes beyond a single genre. Personally, I have always loved listening to alternative rock. In the past few months, I have learned to appreciate jazz and even what I passed off as radio-friendly pop songs. Ironically, I found that hearing the contrast between songs of completely different styles can be invigorating. At one moment I could be listening to a rock anthem, picturing myself in a stadium among a sea of candle-waving fans. At the next, a Charlie Parker jazz tune takes me to an intimate smoke-filled club from the 1940's where patrons are entranced by the groundbreaking musicianship happening right before their eyes. Next up on the playlist is a crushing heavy metal song that resonates with the cathartic release of emotion by a screaming vocalist. A catchy pop hit offers a welcome respite from previous intensity. Truly, a single press of the shuffle button can take you through an exhaustive tour of the human experience.

I'm sure most of us have experienced the mood-improving power of music, but there's also much to gain from exposing yourself to a diverse range of music. Generally, it can give you an awe-inspiring appreciation of humanity's creative capabilities. On a different note, I’ve come to realize that if you accustom yourself to embracing different genres of music, you get a sense of the various life experiences and viewpoints of artists from across the musical spectrum. This kind of exposure can instill in us a greater sense of empathy in general, a valuable trait that is in short supply. It's what compels us to reach out to someone when we sense they are struggling, because we imagine what it must be like in their shoes. In everyday life, practicing this on a regular basis can make us more attentive to the needs of others.

We can engage in a similar kind of understanding when we hear clashing points of view from people about certain hot topics. While we might have an initial knee-jerk reaction that one person is right and the other is dead wrong, it may do us good to at least get a sense of the context in which both parties form their opinions. By empathizing with someone’s life experiences, we get a better sense of why they might hold their specific point of view. In the contemporary marketplace of ideas, where self-expression typically consists of opinionated and polarizing social media posts, maybe we can all benefit from engaging in some musical exploration.