Friday, January 28, 2011

The Music of Our Lives

Music kept intruding on my day today... probably because I spent so much time in the car where I have NPR on constantly. [Ok, write me off as an eastern effect snob, if you like!, but it's true.]

Early this morning was one of those dreary days when the trees are helmeted by the cloud cover and snow is mixed with freezing rain. I heard myself say, "That's terrible music for a day like this and tuned in to hear a piece by Philip Glass that was - at that point - screechy and dis-consonant - a lot like the day. What I wanted was something sunny and encouraging, not something that mirrored the lousy world outside my windshielf. But that's what got me thinking and paying more attention.

This afternoon the sun was out shining so brightly that sunglasses were popping out everywhere I looked - except on me! - and spring seemed right around the corner. On the radio was playing a delightful piece by Dvorak that made me think of squirrel cubs chasing each other 'round and 'round a tree - as perfect for the day as the Glass had been inappropriate. A few minutes later I came upon a solitary state police bagpiper playing by the side of the road. I realized that he - and about 20 other troopers - were standing at the site where a trooper was killed several years ago. They were probably marking the anniversary of his death. The sounds of the bagpipe on the bright afternoon air seemed especially plaintive.

So much music and all day I had been putting it into the context of whatever I was doing, or my surroundings. That got me thinking about the role music plays in our lives - at least if we like it. At the very least, it provides the score to my life, but it also provides much of the history.

What was playing when you were first kissed? [Moon River] What was the first Beatles song you heard? [I Want to Hold Your Hand!] What year? [ain't telling!] Songs your parents loved? [anything Big Band] Your grandparents? [How Great Thou Art] The fact that I remember these says something about how music is part of memory.

There is music that instantly takes you back to an era or an event. We were at friends' a few weeks ago and listening to an oldies station all evening. We spent half the time singing along to the songs of our college years. There's music that cheers us up [Canadian Brass] and music that puts us to sleep [Jacqueline Du Pre playing Brahms]; music that makes us happy [anything Christmas] and perhaps music that makes us sad. Music reminds us of specific people: "Sam, You Made the Pants too Long" [Dad, but you don't bump into this one very often!], "Mairsey Doats" [Mother, ditto], "American Pie" [my brother], and Verdi Requiem [Mitchell]. It's both the backdrop to life and often the fabric.

Think I'll set the Ipod on shuffle and spend the rest of the evening in another time and place. How about you?