A Magic Beyond All Others: A Look at Music in the Potterverse
by Black Lily
Hogwarts, Hogwarts, Hoggy Warty Hogwarts,
Teach us something please,
Whether we be old and bald
Or young with scabby knees,
Our heads could do with filling
With some interesting stuff,
For now theyre bare and full of air,
Dead flies and bits of fluff,
So teach us things worth knowing,
Bring back what weve forgot,
Just do your best, well do the rest,
And learn until our brains all rot!
– PS/SS, American hardback edition, pg. 128
Ah yes, the school song. Bet you all forgot about it, didn’t you? We’ve only heard it once at the beginning of our first year at Hogwarts. One of my favorite concepts in all of the Harry Potter books has been, ”Pick your favorite tune and off we go!” (Dumbledore, PS/SS pg. 127). And one of my favorite Dumbledore lines ever is ”Ah, music, a magic beyond all we do here” (PS/SS pg. 128).
I am a very musical person — I sing and play the clarinet — and to me, truer words have rarely been spoken. Music is a special kind of magic, and I’d like to delve deeper and determine its importance in Harry’s story.
From the start, we’ve had our songs in the books, beginning with the most informative and (one of the most) analyzed portions of the story, the Sorting Hat. It sings to get its message across, and provides entertainment to those returning to school and information to newcomers. In later years, it tells the stories of the four founders and gives advice to its audience. Likewise, in a way, the Mermaid’s song in GoF gave Harry the information he needed to get through the second task of the tournament. But while providing information and entertainment are certainly essential to music, they do not capture its true magic.
Another purpose of music at Hogwarts is to celebrate. Every Christmas, we hear people (or poltergeists) singing carols and enjoying festivities. In OotP, Sirius sings loudly all through the holidays when hes happy that Harry is staying with him. Peeves takes delight in making up rude new lyrics and offending everyone in GoF. Music can indeed express joy greater than words alone could say. But this still is not its real power. Harry begins to discover the real power music can hold in Book 2, when he hears Fawkes sing:
Music was coming from somewhere…The music was growing louder. It was eerie, spine-tingling, unearthly; it lifted the hair on Harrys scalp and made his heart feel as though it was swelling to twice its normal size. (CoS, pg. 315)
Insert witty “Grinch” joke here. My point is that this is where Harry first hears Phoenix song, which has come to strengthen him over the course of the books.
And then an unearthly and beautiful sound filled the air…it was coming from every thread of the light-spun web vibrating around Harry and Voldemort. It was a sound Harry recognized, though he had heard it only once before in his life: Phoenix song.
It was the sound of Hope to Harry– the most beautiful and welcome thing he had ever heard in his life…it was the sound he connected to Dumbledore, and it was almost as though a friend were speaking in his ear. (GoF, pg. 664)
What I find especially interesting here is that Harry relates the beautiful, hope-giving music to Dumbledore, without a real explanation. This is the true power of music: to give us hope and help when we need it, and to connect people around the world, no matter where they might be. Music is a universal language; the notes and symbols are written the same worldwide. Music is a uniting force.
And again, a show of the strength music can give us:
The Phoenix let out one soft, quavering note. It shivered in the air, and Harry felt as though a drop of hot liquid had slipped down his throat into his stomach, warming him and strengthening him. (GoF, pg. 695)
It is Phoenix song and the power of music that gives Harry the strength to relive the events in the graveyard in GoF. It is music that can unite all students, not just at Hogwarts, but Beauxbatons and Durmstrang as well. Is it any wonder that most songs are written about love? A great and terrible power, capable of saving a child from death, capable of ripping a person’s world in two. An emotion far too intense to be adequately expressed in words alone.
His eyes are as green as a fresh pickled toad,
His hair is as dark as a blackboard,
I wish he was mine, hes really divine,
The hero who conquered the Dark Lord.”
– CoS, pg. 238
Okay, maybe not quite like that, but I think that music in general, and Phoenix song in particular are likely to play a nice big role in the final two books.