The Magic of Sound

By Michael Lewin
Posted February 2019

I am obsessed with sound. Shakespeare talked about the inner eye, but my interior life revolves around the inner ear.

Music is the purest of all art forms, for it exists only in sound; it is pure, and free of the distractions and limitations of the other senses. You can’t see it, taste it, touch it. Yet sounds can evoke every possible emotion, from heart-pounding excitement to heart-breaking sadness. Musical sound is a limitless communicator of imagination, expression, color and speech.

One of the defining characteristics of a great musician is their heightened ability to listen, an all-consuming involvement with color and timbre, the interrelationship of notes and harmonies and their organization into structure and meaning. The intensity of the listening is what provides the pathway to true artistic expression.

Musicians are defined by their sound. Although we are always trying to find the specific sound for a particular passage or style, somehow we develop a core sound that is distinctly ours, as much an individual identifier as DNA or a fingerprint. The specific sounds of a great performance have an astounding capacity to live in our aural memories forever, creating a permanent bond between performer and listener.

Sound is the immediate differentiator between pianists when I listen to them in an audition. No matter how accomplished, talented or prepared, it’s the ones who have a distinct and individual sense of sound from their very first notes that separate themselves from the pack and capture my interest.

Schumann prefaced his immortal Fantasy for piano with a quote from Schlegel:

“Through all the notes
In earth’s many-colored dream,
One whispered note is sounding
For the one attuned to hear.”

Close your eyes, and listen. Attune yourself to the magic of sound.