Music, like any form of art, is really just an abstract language. It is, at its root, a form of communication. There is no clear line separating music from speech, or from writing, or from any other medium you want to throw in there. Consider speech more closely. Isn’t cadence central to the way we understand spoken language? As you read these two questions, don’t the sentences cadence upward at the end to denote a question? When I talk, the rhythmic and tonal characteristics of my voice say as much to a listener as the actual words coming out of my mouth. If I knock on your door, aren’t I using a short rhythmic figure to get your attention?
Music, like painting or filmmaking or sculpting, is a conversation between an artist (or group of artists) and an audience. I think this is true even when an artist creates something without any concrete audience in mind. A man on a deserted island can put a note in a bottle without knowing who will get it, or whether they will even understand it, but it’s still an act of communication.
A lot of musicians take a mystical, spiritual approach to their understanding of music. Considering its abstract qualities, this is understandable. I think it’s misguided. Music DOES speak to people on a rawer, more emotional level than most conventional communication. This much is true. But true spirituality is an inner journey. Music, as a form of external stimulus, can help the mind reach a meditative state and quiet a lot of the conscious activity occurring at the surface. What it can’t do is touch the deepest levels of thought and introspection. People and artists who think they are going to achieve some sort of Enlightenment through writing and playing music are wrong.