Without music, the world would be a very different place. Listening to a song or an album or – even better – hearing music performed live by the artist who composed it can transform an ordinary day into an extraordinary one. Music affects mood and can be used to pull you out of the doldrums, to accompany you when feeling alone or wishing to wallow a bit in sadness, can excite when you hear something totally new. It can also transport you through time. When I listen to songs that were my favorites as a teen, I can float back to that space, try to re-experience that former self, or I can hear the music in a whole new way. We never hear the same song twice. I’m not certain of any other medium that has that kind of power, that kind of immediacy.
For Christmas my husband gave me a Sonos sound system. Hands down, it was the best gift I received. Now I can start my day with music and that music helps set the tone for the rest of my day. Moody? Sleepy? Anxious? I figure out how I feel and can choose a song or album to either compliment my mood or change it. By using Pandora and Spotify, I have millions of choices. Literally, millions of choices from one song to an entire album to a complete body of work by an artist. Sometimes it can be overwhelming – like walking into a library and trying to select just one book to check out – but by doing a simple search I can listen to someone I know or discover dozens of new artists, people who I would never have met without this amazing technology.
Yesterday, it was Songs for Beginners by Graham Nash, one of my all time favorite albums. One listen and I am again 16 and spinning a record on a turn-table in my basement room. Nash sings of a lover’s angst, of political unrest, of a call to action. These themes span time and his words and music still resonate today almost 40 years later. Of course, I hear the album differently but that’s the good part. My husband hears the bass line, the rhythmic underpinnings of a song. He can tease out an underlying beat that I may not really hear. But for me, I usually gravitate toward strong lyrics, appreciating an artist who can create a poem and set it to music. I’m a sucker for a clever turn of phrase, a striking image, a well developed character.
Funny how music and lyrics embed themselves in the mind for I can recall song lyrics learned 30 years ago…but I probably can’t tell you the title of a book I read last month. There’s something about putting words to music that aids memory. I wonder how many times I have listened to Blood on the Tracks? I think I can still recall every lyric of every song. So I tend to list toward artists who write, always listening to the content first and then the score beneath it. I long for the moment in a song when everything coalesces and reaches that pitch-perfect moment of clarity that makes the hairs on my arms stand up, a tiny ripple of awe roll through me.
A world without music would be a very sorry place. Thank god for the first person to beat one stick against another. For whomever thought to construct a piano or guitar. For those who built the language to record and share music via bars, notes and chords, markers for tempo and cadence and chords. Musicians amaze me, and if I could have any gift in this life it would be the ability to play an instrument well, the ability to make music. I took the obligatory lessons as a kid. We still had music class in school and I remember attempting the flute, tapping on a triangle in a group. My parents paid for piano and guitar lessons. But despite my will and a decent sense of rhythm, I lacked the innate talent and the necessary dedication to learn to play anything well. When I watch a band perform, I am in awe…Not not just playing an instrument well but doing so in tandem with others. And singing. And connecting with an audience. So many skills happening at one time in perfect time. For those of us who are musically challenged, it almost seems impossible.
Today it’s My Aim is True. A little Elvis Costello to start the day. Even though it’s gray and cold and a bit dismal looking outside, I am happy here with my warm coffee and the brilliance of Costello’s compositions and the stories told through his lyrics. I think of the soundtrack of my life, of my shifts in musical taste over the years and my dogged loyalty that keeps me returning to many of the same songs and artists I have loved since I really started listening to music. I think there are certain works that speak to you and connect with you on a more personal, emotional level. These become a kind of thread woven into the fabric of a life. Like reading the work of a favorite poet or author, a well written song feels comfortable, effortless and provides a tiny window into the creative sole of another. That’s one powerful talent to share with another.