Renewable Energy Renewed
A window seat on the upper level of our bus from Hamburg to Berlin was an ideal vantage point to view the rolling farmland of central Germany. At times, in the agriculturally unworkable strip of land between freeway and field, were mile after mile of recently installed solar panel arrays. Farther off, toward the horizon, were occasional clusters of windmills so imposing that even Don Quixote would have thought twice.
What progress we’ve made in the pursuit of renewable energy! During Mozart’s lifetime, the big technological breakthrough was the conversion from candles to oil lamps. Beethoven might have had a gas lamp at his disposal. In Brahms’s later years he might have marveled at the incandescent light bulb. (Believe it or not, systemic AC current was first demonstrated in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, of all places, in 1886!) And the rest is history. Twentieth and twenty-first century composers have had it easy being able to see what they were writing.
Some sources of the energy that have been used to provide humanity with light are: tallow, beeswax, olive oil, coal, whales, gas, fossil fuel oil, and nuclear combustion. Now, with the urgency of reckoning with climate change, we’ve seen the rapid development of safely renewable sources of energy: solar, wind, and geothermal.
As our bus hummed along the autobahn, however, it occurred to me that up to this very day, there has been one source of renewable energy that has been providing light and warmth without interruption for all these centuries: Music. Scientifically, we’re told the energy in sound waves is far less than other forms of energy. But in terms of energy efficiency, when you consider the effect on the human psyche, from the individual level all the way up to the societal, it’s hard to imagine an energy source more powerful, more transformative, more sustaining, than music.
Humanity will continue to have this vital source of renewable energy as long as there are musicians to transform black dots written on a piece of paper into the sound waves of music. As the Boston Symphony once again demonstrated—after it’s long bus ride to Berlin with its performance of Mahler’s Third Symphony—music is a source of energy that can light up the world.
For more curious insights into the power of music, you may enjoy Symphonies & Scorpions