In music one must think with the heart and feel with the brain. ~George Szell
Perhaps best known for “building the Cleveland Orchestra into a world-class ensemble”, George Szell (1897-1970) was a composer and conductor. I wonder if he had any idea that so many people would share his quote about the heart and mind of music. It does seem to be a popular quote on social media and the web.
In spite of a search of the online and written sources about Szell’s life, I’ve found no indication of where or when he said “In music one must…”
— Tom Godell (@Tom_Godell) November 11, 2014
It is a metaphorical and “inspirational” quote, so I’ll give you some of my own take on it. I do wonder why we find it to be so inspiring.
Heart and Mind
Obviously, you don’t literally feel with your heart. Though the poets might want you to think otherwise, emotions are a full-body experience. Some of the ways you can verify this is the goosebumps when you get scared or excited, sweaty palms when you’re anxious, and so on. Yet, clearly the idea that feelings are heart-centered is a common idea or metaphor.
Thinking with the brain? Sure. Unless you want to expand the idea and ask why we don’t more often consider how much influence sensations and emotions have on thinking. You collect experiences in your memory and when you look at them as a whole, you see them as simply “experience”. And is that memory all in your brain? Or do you sometimes notice that you have “body memories”? I know that I do. This is why practices like InterPlay make so much sense when they integrate our body/mind/spirit experiences into one unified whole.
All Mixed Up In Music
The “feelings come from the heart” and “thoughts come from the mind” thing is already a bit of a jumble. Emotions and thoughts can be identified with or influenced by any number of body parts. Along comes Szell and turns even these clichés on their head: “think with the heart and feel with the brain.” And he does this all in the context of music. What better place could there be: when you listen to music, sensations come up. Some may be based on that body memory thing. Others may just be the desire to relax, tap your foot, or dance. You name it. (I’d love to hear how music does or doesn’t affect you in the comments.)
You’ll have to decide if Szell’s quote inspires you and if it does, why. Here’s what it does for me: I already have this idea that matching up heart/emotions and mind/thoughts is oversimplifying things. So when I read this quote, I am reminded that music — both in listening and playing — is about all of me. Not just a certain organ or a certain fascia or muscle or sinew or bone. For me, music is one of the ultimate whole-body experiences. And that’s what keeps me coming back for more.