Why doesn’t music exist?

I was reading Joseph Pieper’s “Only the Lover Sings” on the way into Philadelphia this morning.

“We obviously perceive more and something other than the specific sounds produced,” writes Pieper, “by the bow on the strings of a violin, by the air blown into a flute, or by the finger hitting the keys of a piano. All these sounds, of course, also reach the ears of those who cannot relate to music at all (should such a species exist). These sounds alone, no doubt, do not yet constitute music as such! What, then, do we essentially perceive when we listen to music in the proper manner?”

Immediately thinking of dogs, I wondered what do dogs perceive when they hear music.

Something akin to our hearing a leaf blower, maybe? Noise?

It’s the same way with art: what does a dog see in a Rembrandt? Is that canvas distinguished as different from the blank wall on which it sits? Or is it just another thing in the way?

I’d like to think a dog sees something there, or hears something in a piece of music, which he intuits is important, different. But my own experience with the difficulty of a Creator suggests to me that a dog might be blind or deaf in this respect.

I suspect God doesn’t “exist,” really. If he did, what would be the mystery of faith? Where is God hiding? He is not a creature, like other embodied creatures, existing somewhere in the universe. So to argue God’s “existence” seems sillier than to affirm the simple reality of God’s being.

(His continuing relationship with us was revealed by the embodied Christ, so clearly God can exist if he wills it. But maybe not; did everyone see God when they saw the physical presence of Jesus? It seems not; most only saw the son of a carpenter, or later a preacher or prophet. Neither Pilate, nor Herod, nor the Pharisees seemed to see God when Jesus stood before them. So, Jesus is God, but his being is not necessarily obvious in his existence.)

Maybe it’s the same with music. It exists only as sounds vibrating both our’s and our dog’s eardrums. But when we hear it, something more comes through that isn’t only sounds, but something other than what is physically there.


Of course, dogs notice what exists, but not necessary what is. They might have their own sort of spiritual vocabulary to account for a piece of music, or a Rembrandt, when they feel an inkling that this is something other. This isn’t the nothingness of the blank wall, but the somethingness of… well, something other….. When hearing a certain sort of noise, a dog might think the equivalent of “I Am” without understanding any of its second order implications. Then again, maybe not.

The point is that a dog might recognize the existence of a piece of music, at least as noises clanging in his ear, even if he doesn’t recognize its being as a piece of music. We pity the dog for this inability to hear, but it’s an inability we all too often share with him: an inability to recognize in a created, beautiful thing what it is, and that its creator might be the one in front of us. Filling our supper plate, even.

In a painting or a piece of music, the dog doesn’t recognize his own master as either the painter or composer.

All too often, neither do we.

Returning to the title, my question was: Why doesn’t music exist? and I said I tend to think God doesn’t exist, either. Why, then, do they only have being?

Obviously, dogs can hear the sounds of music, but not its being; and we can see the work of the Creator, but only know of his being by faith or intuition.

So, maybe what I am really asking is: Why doesn’t being exist?