Music accesses a deep part of the brain. Music, along with fragrance, has the power to transport, through memory, to another time and space. One whiff, two chords, are enough to start the time machine and elicit a flood of feeling, sensations, and thoughts.
I’m classically trained as a singer and pianist. I spent several years as a radio announcer at classical music stations, and grew up in a household where music of all genres played constantly. To say that I have a “soundtrack” for my life is an understatement. And yet — do you ever really notice the wallpaper? Sometimes I think that since music was always “on,” I don’t have those auditory snapshot moments where an event, a person, a circumstance, is crystallized somewhere in the recesses, folds, and wetware of my cranium. Or perhaps I have too many, and so I take them for granted. It is hard for me to know.
Choral music, art songs, arias, jazz, show tunes. Pop music, much like furniture or appliances, is present but largely ignored. I do remember some epic concerts back in the day: Stevie Wonder, Joanie Mitchell, John Denver, Simon and Garfunkle. Strange that I remember what happened on stage, and I remember isolated events and people. But there is nothing like the archetypal love story or movie scene that some people can describe, recalled by a song. Not for me. Not at all.
I can hear the introduction to any chorus or aria from Handel’s Messiah and launch into a long riff of scripture quoting and singing. Messiah in toto is not so suited for solo singing, turns out. Same with Bach’s B-Minor Mass, the Beethoven Missa Solemnis, Brahms, Faure, Verdi Requiems — any of the major choral works or anthems, they are “in there.” I need only hear a snippet to remember a performance, a service, a festival, a rehearsal, singing the soprano solos, or conducting. I remember who sat next to me on the risers. Where is he now? I hear a few bars of Thelonious Monk and remember a curious and awkward date with a young man who was passionate about jazz, and about being at the hot spot with a pretty girl on his arm — and little else. I remember Chicago’s “As Time Goes By,” dancing at a high school Homecoming with my borderline-abusive boyfriend. I hear a song from “Fiddler on the Roof,” and remember a crazy night with about eight high-school friends, crammed into a red Corvair at the drive-in, singing along at the tops of our lungs through the whole movie. . .
One of my beginning voice students was singing Henry Mancini’s “Moon River” at her last lesson. I was suddenly plunged into a stream of memory, of the first date with my ex-husband, now, oh, 35 years ago? My little emotional canoe was heading toward the rapids, and somehow I managed to jump out and just remember the concert and the music, without drowning in the memory of all the bad and good of those years.
Does music bring me joy? Undoubtedly. But it also brings memories; and, I am not surprised to realize, many are rooted in sadness, sorrow. I let the tears flow, I feel myself breathe, I keep choking out the melody, dropping out when my sobs prevent the high notes.
This post is inspired by a prompt from the Scintilla Project.