Monday, February 20, 2012

The Power of Music

I didn't sleep well last night, tossed and turned, woke up several times, a stormy night of dreams.  At 6 or so I finally gave up.  The coffee brewed as I stared at the heavy, wet snow clinging to the branches of every tree in my back yard. Snow at 53 isn't the stuff of playful imagination. Snow is wet, cold and messy, a nuisance. As I trudged up the stairs to my office a darkness began to enter into my day. It was Monday, the snow had thrown a white, lifeless pall over what had begun to resemble spring. Something new and young had overnight become tired and bleak. I turned on my computer and read through my normal business lineup.  The Wall Street Journal proclaimed the latest contradiction in monetary policy out of Washington. Drudge reliably chronichled the contined cultural decline that is my country in 2012. I closed my eyes and took a sip of coffee. I reached for my iPhone and switched on Pandora.

There was a blues tune playing, something by B.B. King. His woman had left him and he was terribly distraut. His crying, mournful riff did nothing at all to raise my spirits.  When you're trying to snap out of a funk, clear the fog from around your thinking, trying to raise your mood, the blues are not your friend. I stared out of the window and waited for finish. It would have been rude and disrespectful to click to the next song, no matter how tired I may have been of hearing about this unfaithful winch of a woman. So I waited, mourning along with him and watching little clumps of snow slide off the curved front of my gas grill.

Then suddenly, there was George Gershwin and his Rhapsody in Blue. There was a piano, then an orchestra. I sat down slowly and took another sip of coffee, holding the mug tightly in both hands to keep them warm.  I closed the laptop and listened. The sounds coming from my cell phone transported me to another place. I felt as if I was in the concert hall.  Where was it? Who was it? I grabbed the phone and scrolled through and saw that it was the New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Berstein. The pianist was anonymous and should not have been for he was masterful. The soaring beauty of the melody and the playfulness of the jazz theme began to sweep away the dross. I became aware of the beating of my heart. A tightness came to my throat, an emotion from some hidden place. All of my life it has been this way. Music is one of the few things that has consistently had the power to stir in me powerful emotions that come from some strange place, I know not where. But there I was listening,in my pajamas, spellbound, to this beautiful work, with a lump in my throat. Whenever I try to explain this phenominon to other people, they take a small step back, turn their head to one side and smile nervously. The only people who have ever really understood what I was talking about have been my brother Donnie, my son Patrick and Patrick's high school choral director, Sherrie Matthews. Each of these three are all music people, each supremely talented, and each had a flicker of recognition on their faces when I tried to explain the otherworldly power of music to transform the mind. None of them could explain it either, but each knew it to be true. Towards the end of the piece there is this particularly powerful, soaring melody that brought to mind a United Airlines commercial from years ago. When I first though of it, I felt a bit disgusted that anyone would use such a work to sell anything, let alone airline tickets.  But then I thought, why not? It transformed my day from dreary to something lighter than neutral,  no small feat. A lot cheaper than therapy. Rhapsody in Blue makes you want to do something good, to be good. I wonder how many men were inspired to get on a plane and reunite with their wives after hearing it? How many long lost friends were reunited after someone heard the soaring notes, got inspired and flew across the country to reconnect?

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why we insist on teaching music in school. Someone may hear the notes and be transported to a better place.  Someone may hear the melody and be stirred in a magical way and realize that there is something better, something higher to aspire to. Today, for me, it simply jump-started my day. For some kid somewhere, it just might save their life.