Music has been my job for thirty plus years. From my first guitar to writing to singing to playing to recording to producing, I’ve bathed in music for most of my life. But this post, thank goodness, is not about me. Music has never been about me. It’s about us.
Oh, I started out playing for myself and I liked the way my parents smiled. Later on I liked the way the girls smiled. But after a few years passed I began to notice that people weren’t interested in me so much as the music.
My Song Was About What?
I would write a song and say exactly what I meant to say but people would come up after I played and thank me – for writing a song about something that happened in their life. It often had nothing to do with the song. It had nothing to do with me. It was all about them.
How they heard the song, their history, their feelings, their interpretation, was more than half of the experience for them. I wrote something that sparked thoughts and memories that they already had inside.
It was a powerful and confusing thing to a songwriter. I would write one song and they would hear another one. In fact, they kind of kidnapped my song and turned it into their own.
It was frustrating for awhile because I thought I wasn’t communicating my intention. But slowly it began to dawn on me that it didn’t matter. What was happening was better than my original idea. So, what was happening?
How Did They Know?
We all have things inside that are too big to express. My entire life floats around inside of me in the form of memories and emotions that are beyond communication. When someone writes a song that expresses a glimpse of what I feel then I latch onto it as precious. I take it as my own.
It’s as if the writer looked inside of me and wrote the inexpressible song in my heart. And it sets me free. (Of course, it also makes me wonder why I didn’t write the song, but that’s another issue.)
That’s the cathartic power of music. It communicates that bigger thing inside of us. It touches our toes and makes us want to dance. It touches the corner of our mouths and teases out a smile. It is the joyous soundtrack to the movie of our lives. It reflects our feelings but it does more.
It also has the power to change how we feel. Whether we want to or not.
Bypassing My Brain
I was driving into town one morning, late, stuck in traffic and angry about things at work. I knew it was going to be a long day dealing with difficult personalities and unnecessary chaos. Then a song came on and the intro caught my ear. I’d never heard it before. By the end of the first verse I’d forgotten I was mad. By the second chorus I was singing along and playing drums on the steering wheel. Three minutes later my world had changed, the sun was shining and I loved life.
Oh No They Didn’t!
Afterward, the D.J. announced that it was a new single by a band I knew personally. They were a scary clown circus on wheels, a terror to work with, but the surprising thing was that it didn’t matter to me. I had to shake my head and give them their due.
In the end, it wasn’t about them. It was about me and a song that strummed the chords of my heart.
What? Did I just say that? I know. I’m a jaded music professional. I’ve seen and heard it all. I’m supposed to be immune to this sort of thing. Apparently not.
Perhaps, more than anything else, the value of music is to communicate shared emotions. The idea that someone else feels the same thing and the ability to share that moment is life-altering. It’s communion beyond words. Socialization for the soul. Understanding. Inspiration. The melody of hope.
How Powerful Is That?
I could give countless illustrations but this one is fresh on my mind. It’s hard to top . . .