Music makes miracles possible

Music makes miracles possible

Last week was a pretty rough week. Sometimes life throws those at you, and all you can do is your best to get through the rough spots. When I think back over my life and remember other tough times, I also invariably remember how music helped me through. Sometimes playing music saw me past the pain. Quite often just being a music listener was all I could muster, and that got me through too. And this week it was music that gave me respite from my worries.

Sad little boy with head on piano keyboard
Music relates to any and every emotion

Music has a fascinating capacity to act as a powerful tool with which to process complex emotions. It is a potent and safe outlet that all of humanity from the beginning to right this very moment has used to express every imaginable emotion. When you’re angry enough that you want to hurt someone, music can calm you. When you’re so sad you feel like your heart and very soul are buried in mud and sludge, music can lift you from the quicksand. When you’ve been broken and you can’t imagine ever being whole again, music can help you start piecing things back together.

On the other side of the ledger, when happiness makes your chest feel like it will burst, music can flow through you and heighten the unbridled joy, carrying it from your heart to the hearts of anyone lucky enough to be around to share the joy. When you are so in love that you can’t form words to express your adoration, music speaks eloquently on your behalf.

What other tool touches nearly everyone that has ever lived in such a meaningful and profound way? Virtually every culture ever known seems to have made music an important, if not critical and even central, component of their society. Whether it be simple rhythmic rituals or complex melodic structures, there has always been music. Music prepared warriors for battle. Music celebrated birth, growth, life, and ultimately death. Music was called on to bring the rain. Music could help keep the crops safe from pestilence.  Without music, cultures would seem to have shriveled up and died.

On a personal level, thinking back on my happiest times, they involved music. Thinking back on the darkest times, music again. Many years ago now, I spent the better part of a whole year writing one sad heartbroken song after another. I have rough recordings of most of those. Some are utterly forgettable and unfortunate, while others aren’t all that bad, and a couple are pretty good if you ask me. But every last one of them was important. Each verse was one more batch of unbearable emotion offloaded onto the back of the progression of chords and carried away from me on the melody. Each line brought me a little further from the pain and one step closer to happier times. The pain of that year is a distant memory now, hardly evoking a twinge, but those songs still remain, and they still hold much of the power that they did back then.

It’s not that if I think about or listen to those songs I’m transported back into the depths of that pain. Rather, those songs evoke the memories and remind me that you really can get through anything. I look back now and the sadness of those days holds little, if any, power over me. But the songs…the songs still feel powerful. They remind me of what it is to live, to love, to lose, and just exactly how important it is to allow yourself to feel all of it. And they remind me to be protective of the joy I have in my life now. The new love I’ve found. The family and relationships that I have formed which could not have been formed in the same way without those former sad and desperate times.

That’s not to say there are not difficult times today. There will always be. This past week was harder than most. Ironically, as fate would have it, Friday night was the day I was scheduled to play a guest set with my friends in Common Chord, which I’d mentioned before. I almost backed out–it all just seemed like too much. But my friends stuck with me. They permitted me to “play it by ear” (if you’ll pardon the musical pun). In the end, I decided to play the show. They let me up on stage with just one rehearsal and chorus full of understanding and compassion. They backed me and provided strength. We smiled and played my seven songs.

We didn’t play them great, but we played them. And the crowd enjoyed themselves. And for at least an evening, I was able to move the troubles of the week aside and let the music flow out of me. It wasn’t the best music I’ve ever performed, but it could have been among the most therapeutic.

How can music do that? Where does this capacity for healing, for soothing relief, come from? What is it about music that makes such miracles possible? I don’t know, but I accept the blessings without guilt or reservation. I am thankful for the healing. Music doesn’t remove the difficulty, but there is no doubt that it lightens the burden.

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