Sunday, September 2, 2012

Music: Can You Name That Tune in Three Notes?

Ok, I admit it.    I am sentimental and sometimes cry about stuff for no good reason.    Or at least one that is not obvious to me right off the bat.    So the other night when I was reading one of the blogs I follow, I saw a link to a song from my past.    It was Arlo Guthrie singing " The City of New Orleans".    Someone else had commented that when they went to the link and watched it they cried.   And I thought, "Yea, I bet you did."   Then I clicked on the link and was barely into the Youtube video when I found myself singing along and crying like I was two years old.   

Yep, it happened to me, too.   And that made me start thinking and you know what a dangerous thing that can be.   Oh, but I kid about that, because actually I am a big advocate of thinking.   It can lead you in directions you never knew you'd go, but hey, it IS what is supposed to separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom, right?  (Although I have seen and read some things lately that are making me begin to wonder and doubt the common wisdom on THAT.    But that's for another blog post, not this one.)    

So as I was sitting there singing and crying, it occurred to me that music is such a powerful force in our lives and that if there is something universal in this world, it is the power of music to touch us, inspire us and maybe even make us better human beings.    Well, I might be hoping for too much on that last thing, but for sure, music does touch us and activates parts of our brain that maybe we aren't even aware we have.     Back before I retired, I used to read a lot of stuff regarding the brain since it directly applied to my line of work.   And if there is anything that came out of all that reading, it is that there is so much more to learn about our brain.....we've only begun to scratch the surface of what there is to know about it.   It truly is a vast frontier of the unexplored, but hopefully knowable, essence of what makes us human.   

As I read and began to have a greater appreciation for our brain,  it became very clear to me that there are forces around us that make us act and think in certain ways.   And one of those is music.     The very act of listening to a familiar song can evoke such powerful memories or feelings that one could almost burst with sheer joy or sob uncontrollably for being reminded of something bygone and faded into the mists of time.     Likewise, the act of creating or playing music can be such a healing and life changing thing that the urge to do this often starts at a very early age.    

I can't help but think of my oldest grandson, Gavin.    When he was a wee tike, who had to have help to get up on the piano bench, he would sit up there, bouncing up and down, moving his hands up and down the keys, pretending to be playing the piano.    He had a certain movement in his shoulders that indicated he had a clear vision of how one moves when performing at the piano.    We often laughed at his cute attempts to play the piano, little realizing that in a few short years, he would keep that desire to make music alive by taking, first, guitar lessons and then moving on
to learn how to play the piano.  Today he is a budding performer who entertains us at family gatherings,   inspires people at his church and like most teenagers, has dreams of taking his skills to the professional stage some day.   I hope he succeeds because making music is so important to him and I know one of his greatest desires is to share his gifts and talents by writing and performing music.   

Another story about the power of music was related to me by Larry.    A few years ago he volunteered with a group of people who went to nursing homes and facilities who care for severely disabled adults.    Many of these people live a life that most of us could never imagine.     And we're pretty good at hiding these people, not because we're cruel or indifferent to their plight, but because it is painful and difficult to see the hand that they were dealt and not wonder if life has some unexpected surprises for us, too.    So this group of volunteers would try to overcome their own reluctance to see a side to life that some would avoid to try to bring a little joy and fun into the lives of the people who lived in the home.       Many were wheelchair bound with ailments that rendered them incapable of walking.    Some had brains that were horrendously malformed so that there was little or no hope of anything close to normal functioning.     Some were just really old and dementia had taken its toll on their minds.      A sad group of life's survivors to be sure.    

Well, having strung you along to this sad place, I need to turn to what happened next.   And this is where a little miracle took place that should make you never doubt the power of music to transform a life, if only for a short while.     With their canned music and portable keyboard, Larry and that small group of singers began to sing a familiar hymn.     It doesn't matter what it was.   It could have been The Old Rugged Cross or Down by the Riverside.   No matter.   It's what happened when one little lady in particular heard the notes drift her way.     There she was on a type of gurney, sprawled backward, staring up at the ceiling, no recognition on her face or in her eyes that she even knew where she was or that there was even anyone else in that room with her.    And then.....all of sudden, she sat bolt upright and began smiling and swaying along to the music.    It was as if something reanimated her poor broken body and mind to awaken anew.     And the whole time they were singing the song that touched something in her time ravaged brain, she smiled and almost glowed with the sheer joy of hearing that familiar song that brought her back to this world again for a few minutes.   

I have often thought of this story when I hear a song on the radio or the music that takes us on a journey when we watch a movie.     Is there anyone who can listen to the soundtrack from the movie Jaws and not be instantly transported back to the time you first saw that film??   It's the music that  did it, not the images, although they are powerful, too.  Those first few strains of that ominous musical interlude were used to properly prepare us for what was coming next.    Who says music can't move you?  It can lift you out of despair, scare the heck out of you or take you soaring to new heights of inspiration.  Or even just take a sentimental journey back in time.  

Finally, one last personal story about the power of music and this one is my own.     Twenty two years ago I was engaged in one of the most serious battles of my life.    I had been diagnosed with breast cancer and was about to embark on the treatment plan that took more than a year to complete and is probably the reason I am alive and sitting here today writing this blog.   My doctors had recommended a course of treatment that included surgery, followed by six weeks of radiation therapy and then ten months of chemotherapy.      It was a long and stressful event in my life, but one that forever changed me and helped make me into who I am today.    

As I was going to get chemo every week, I began a to see quite a few of my fellow travelers (aka Cancer Survivors) bringing boom boxes with them on the days they got their IV treatments.    A few who were more technologically advanced even had Walkmans.   Ipods were still many years away from being a reality back then.     And I read in journals and information for patients that listening to music was proving to be a great way to get through treatment and help deal with stress and uncertainty.    So I decided I would give it a whirl since treatments could be and often were times of difficulty for me.     

I had a few CDs since they were a rather new item at the time and I had cassette tapes.   My choices tended to go toward New Age music, but I was definitely not above listening to Huey Lewis and the News when the mood struck me.     I discovered right away that listening to the music had a very profound affect on my mood, my heartbeat and my stress level.   One particular artist, Andreas Vollenweider, was one I listened to time after time.   To this day, there is one track on one of his albums that I can hear and will instantly relax and begin to feel calm inside.      He plays harp and I have promised myself if I ever get the chance to hear him in person, I will go since I am pretty sure it will be a high point in my life.    As an aside about this, I wrote to him when I was in the middle of treatment to tell him how much his music meant to me and that I hoped he would continue to bring his gifts and talents to the world since I felt he was making a huge difference for so many people.    And if you can believe it, I got a handwritten reply from this man that I have still in an album.    I will never forget the kindness of this international star for writing to me, just an ordinary fan who took the time to write to him about the value and impact of his music on my life.    

So to tie all of this up in a neat package, I say to anyone who takes the time to read this, if you're searching for a way to find comfort or peace, music can be your friend.     If you want something to evoke powerful memories and maybe even inspiration, look to your musical library (or Youtube).    If you are trying to set a mood (think of Jaws!), music will do the trick.     And for goodness sake, if you are musically inclined, MAKE music for your own amusement and amazement.  Do it for any willing audience.   But just do it.     The power of music has been proven to us over and over and it is up to us to figure out ways to bring it into our lives for all the many paths we can explore using that power.   

P.S.  The track I was referring to that I so loved back then and still listen to is on an album called:
Andreas Vollenweider Trilogy.  The track is an extra one called "Pace Verde". The You Tube link is below and when I listened to it a few minutes ago...yep....I cried, but boy, was I relaxed!

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Happy Trails,



  1. Well, Marcia, as a musician myself, you KNOW how much I enjoyed this post! I think you are so right about the power music holds to move us in so many ways. I love live music when I can find it. There's nothing like hearing a 200-voice choir singing Beethoven's 9th (Ode to Joy) or blasting out one of the Carmina Burana themes to reach right down into your soul! I've had the privilege to sing in such choirs myself and have occasionally had to stop singing, I was so overcome with emotion.

  2. I really resonated to this one, Marcia. Outside of the people I love, nothing in life is more important to me than music, and outside of losing those people and my health nothing could lower the quality of my life more than being deprived of music.


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