There have been volumes written about the power of music, and so, as I sit to write this post, I wonder if I will be able to limit my thoughts to a few hundred words. Without question, music is among the most evocative experiences on this earthly plane, conjuring up memories or providing a temporary escape. It helps us to study and grow and laugh and love. In fact, because our human brains are wired to respond to the rhythms and melodies, it uniquely bonds us. Through music, we cross cultural and racial lines as we speak a universal language in notes, forming a powerful human connection, an undeniable commonality.
Most of us can think of at least one tune that expresses the condition of our hearts or triggers an emotional response, a reminder of, for example, a difficult breakup or a personal triumph I can tell you what song was popular at pivotal moments for me, easily reciting the playlist from the soundtrack of my life. I readily recall my first rock concert and what the D.J. played when my first love asked me to be his girl. I remember tender melodies that retell the stories of bittersweet times and happy toe- tapping beats when I danced the night away with wild abandon. I can even still play my first piano recital piece, one I learned when I was eight. Don’t we all have such musical memories, tucked away in our minds? And who hasn’t cried at the words of a heart-wrenching tune, playing it over and over again as the emotion rises to the surface? There is certainly a cathartic experience associated with such moments.
From the time we are young, we are taught tunes that have helped us learn. As toddlers, we proudly perform the "ABC Song,” and later learn the states and capitals when accompanied by a catchy bit of harmony. Even the Periodic Table of the Elements has its own unique jingle. Singing the phrases results in greater recall because somehow, it is easier to commit concepts to memory when the lesson is accompanied by notes and a beat.
We celebrate the significant times musically as well. If I had a buck for every time I joyfully sang “Happy Birthday” to someone, I’d have a nice little nest egg. Whether the tune is used to march us down the aisle or march us off to war, it forms a backdrop for important celebrations. Every 4th of July, the sound of “I’m Proud to be an American” still brings me to tears. And so does “Silent Night.”
There is a physical/emotional connection with music. Instinctively, fussy babies in their cribs become calmer when they hear they soothing sounds of a lullaby. Being rocked, accompanied by a mother’s soft singing voice, is a sure-fire way to put a tired infant to sleep. And most recently, I have discovered the therapeutic power of music for myself. As I sat in the chemo chair or had to sit quietly, waiting during the pre-scan infusion, I put on my earbuds and let the soothing sounds take me to a place where my mind was able to concentrate on healing. It is here that my prayers felt stronger, my mind clearer. Fear and worry seemed to evaporate. And even now, when I am feeling blue, filled with anxiety, music seems to calm me, taking me to a place where all is well. Everything seems to hurt a little less. As Bob Marley said, “One good thing about music is that when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
I often wonder if we respond spiritually to the familiar beats because it reminds us of heaven. Could paradise be a place where glorious notes fill the air? Certainly, we are told that choirs of angels sing in praise. And so, does the sound of music prompt us to think of home? Are newborns comforted by the soft strains because they are so familiar to them, having recently departed heaven for this world? This is one of the great mysteries of life, I suppose, but it is a lovely thought.
We all have a song in our hearts, the notes coming from the very depths of our souls. I sometimes question what mine is. But in the quiet of the night, I hear it, a sacred tune which is as familiar as the rhythm of my own breathing and yet both foreign and new. Perhaps because there are no words to accompany the notes, it is like an unwritten story and simply waits to be told. That part is up to me.
I think being sick has heightened my senses, made me aware of the wonders of this world, the gifts bestowed on us by a benevolent God. A warm spring day, a beautiful sunset: these are glimpses of the Divine here on earth. And always, there is music, which takes us to a place, I believe, where the spiritual and physical world connect, a momentary interaction between what is human and He who hears our songs.