“Too bad that guy can’t sing very well at all,” came the lightly sarcastic comment from the Lovely Lady today as the CD version of David Phelps’ “Nessun Dorma” came to an end. Setting the table with my back to her, I couldn’t make a reply, since I was afraid that I would embarrass myself by crying as I spoke. I’ve always been like that. Music evokes emotion that I don’t know is inside me. I can watch a horribly sad scene in a movie without the slightest hint of discomfort, but add a couple of violins and I have to surreptitiously wipe the tears away, when I think no one is watching. I hear Chris Rice’s “Untitled Hymn” on the car radio and have to pull over to avoid causing an accident.
The scene was repeated this evening, as I sat at the computer, checking my emails for the day. A friend had sent a link to a video of a recent incident at the Philadelphia Macy’s store. The event was described as a “Random Act Of Culture” (click on the link to watch it yourself). As the huge Wanamaker pipe organ roared out, 650 individuals from the Opera Company of Philadelphia and a number of other organizations gathered in the central atrium and broke into the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah”. The Lovely Lady heard the music and asked me why I was listening to that particular song (it’s not Christmas yet, you know) and again, I couldn’t answer for fear of my voice cracking.
What is it about music that makes an ordinarily almost-sane man weep like a child? How is it that random notes, which were arranged together and coupled with words and written on a page two hundred fifty years ago, can have the power today to move huge groups of people to spontaneous demonstrations of exultation, when performed by talented musicians? I will freely admit that, after a lifetime of making music and being around musicians, I still have no idea what causes this phenomenon. And, I’m not sure that I want to know.
I understand a fair amount about chord construction, key signatures, and rhythm. We call this theory, and maybe there’s a reason it’s called that (beyond the obvious). A quick check of Google sources will demonstrate that all the scientific investigation up to the present has not been able to find any answer as to why we are moved emotionally when we hear different types of music. I can’t speak categorically, but my suspicion is that they won’t ever be able to answer that question. There are just some things that can’t be contained in a formula, can’t actually be held in your hand, but they just are.
Most of the time I spend at my untidy desk, I’m listening to music. I’m moved by it, inspired by it, and sometimes, my work comes to a screeching halt as I am captivated by it. While much of the beauty of life is visual; Gorgeous, awe-inspiring mountain crags, or the white sands and roaring, roiling surf of the seashore, or the majesty of sprawling, verdant forests, I am delighted to know that we can travel in our spirits to a beautiful, enchanted place without ever leaving our drab, dingy workplaces. We are moved by the timeless grace of one of God’s best gifts to mankind, the melodies and harmonies, both instrumental and vocal, that make up what we so simply call music. Would that all art was so simple, yet so eloquent.
Oh, and if you tell the Lovely Lady that I get all choked up over music, I’ll deny it. I’ve got to protect my macho image, you know. She still thinks I’m the strong, silent type, and it might disappoint her to discover that I’m actually sensitive and artsy. Let’s just keep this to ourselves, okay?
“Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul.”