The power of music

While I’m waiting for the paint to dry, while I have no furniture and no computer, as I try to push through the chill gray of a late October day, I thought I’d try to write another post or two. Easier said than done.

I was thinking about music and its effects after watching the PBS video, Playing for Change: Peace Through Music, the other night. The show features musicians from around the world performing music for peace. It’s a wonderful production. Grandpa Elliott, a New Orleans blues singer, starts it off and is joined ultimately by dozens—sitars, drums, guitars, flutes; a kids’ chorus in Northern Ireland, a choral group in South Africa, an Israeli woman, Zuni drummers in New Mexico, a Russian cellist, Bono…. The music they produce is about peace, not so much because of the lyrics, but because it’s sung and played by many together, all of them in a profound gesture towards the cause of peace. You can look at it at You Tube. Try especially the song, “Stand by Me.”

Grandpa Elliott. Photo by Leo Reynolds. Under a Creative Commons license.

Music can be so many things. Marches stir our patriotic blood, lullabies lull us to sleep; love songs break our hearts. A few years ago the media was full of stories about dairy farmers who increased their production playing Mozart while the cows were milked. Music fills in the spaces in our lives and makes them more than they seemed before.

Though perhaps not all of it. San Francisco, a fine and cultured city if there ever was one, has one of those dreadful classical music stations that promise music that will relax us, soothe us, ease us as we move from one high stress situation to another. Not a real classical music station by my lights, since most serious music should disturb, hurt, bring us to cathartic tears and worse. But they seem to find plenty of overtures and slow movements to make it work.

Nonetheless, I must admit that a lot of classical music does soothe me, even if it probably shouldn’t. Bach on the piano played by Gould or Perahia, a Schubert string quintet—those sorts of things. As I think about it, they don’t so much soothe as balance. They have a symmetry that contemporary music of nearly every kind seems to lack. They make sad things, violent things and, of course, happy things, come together in a wonderful equilibrium.

So, while I wait for the paint to dry and life to resume, I’m going to try to find some Bach cantatas. Add a little religious fervor and I might just make it through this, wet paint and all..

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One thought on “The power of music

  1. Bach cantatas should do it indeed.

    In late December, WKCR (usually from before Christmas through New Year’s Day or Eve), the Columbia station, has its annual Bach festival–I don’t know how many days it will be this year. I hope no less than 10. They play Bach around the clock, no announcements, no commercials. There are cantata request hours. I just keep the radio tuned to that station and listen all day (when I’m home) and sometimes all night. It definitely changes the cells in my brain. AND, you can get it on the computer at WKCR.

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