By Narcissa Lyons
Man walks into a bar.
A tall but feminine cowboy shot my brother right in front of me.
She took off her brassiere very slowly in front of the alien.
Above statements are pretty great openers for whatever subject they would be introducing. I am not getting the vibe or the dazzle that I’d want to convey for one of the best things in life–Music, dear music, our necessary and attentive lover. Never-the-less I will try to pay tribute as best as I can to this resoundingly large dimension. The magnitude of its effect on the majority of living souls is not quantifiable, and while I can’t prove it yet, I know it also affects the many souls no longer on this planet. From the beginning of this life including conception there is music, or at the very least tuneful sound. Even if you don’t hear seductive swanky jazz while your mother and father are distractedly creating you, very soon you are entranced with the tones of your mother’s womb–the jostle of your container, the voices of people talking to your mother’s belly, and this begins to form who you are and what you will love to hear. And we’ve all read about the positive effects of music played loudly enough for an unborn child to hear it, that playing classical music will in fact enhance the brain of that child.
But I am not talking about how it is possible to affect intelligence, or the science of music. Sure, music can be cerebral, but far more grand and beautiful and historic is what it makes us feel, how it makes us move and how it moves us.
I grew up playing the piano and listening to classical. Liszt, Beethoven, Mozart, Sibelius, and many others in the same gang would play on our parents’ record player on most weekends, maybe even for cocktail hour if they had one. We lived on five acres in New York and the living room window on the back of our house overlooked our very own little lake that had eight willows surrounding it, an island in the middle and three red bridges, one going to the island and the other two crossing outgoing streams. It was environmental music I suppose, and it was a paradise for children. Many a day I would look out the window as the classical played and imagine stories unfolding in the branches of those trees, of faeries swinging off and dancing on the surface of the lake, and possible kind witches watching from the shore (listen to Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody #2 and you will see something similar yourself). Sometimes it would be darker stories–particularly with Tchaikovsky or Sibelius–since the willow at the far side of the property was a riotous king, and he was not a benevolent tree, was not a tree that appreciated dancing faeries anyway. The windows were large, and if the weather was tempestuousness combined with what played in the background, it was a spell unmatched.
Anyway, we grew up with music, and then around age 11 began to listen to the radio and play other styles of music. Since technology back then was lacking at best, in order to capture a song we liked without purchasing a 45 (no, not the gun), we’d have to request the song on a radio station, pray they played it, and then wait and try to catch it from the beginning with a tape recorder. Or that’s what we did since we had nothing else. That sort of dependence on others to play what you wanted could lead to some weary days, and dejected youths. But you learned who your favorite DJs were. We’d even on occasion record a scene from a movie or show, but since the sound quality of the play-back was worse than awful it had to be one hell of a piece.
Then things got easier and we started to appreciate albums, and the splendor of going to concerts. Of sitting in your room with a few friends just listening to the way Pink Floyd could take you away on anything from The Wall or “Shine on You Crazy Diamond off Wish You Were Here with or without mind altering ingredients. The hypnotic and trancelike intro of Supertramp’s “Child of Vision”. Standing around a fire in a forbidden section of woods listening to extremely loud music, and sometimes that was even what made the night. Sometimes just being loud was good enough for young, rebelling ears. We didn’t have to talk all the time, but stood appreciating the sound, occasionally looking at one another and smiling or just holding our own. Even our own self-deemed wisdom wasn’t enough to quite say what we were feeling and how incredible it was.
Riding in cars and dancing in bars, mesmerized moving and dancing with those who are worth it who are with us as we love this drug, this companion (David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”, what a multi-generation shaker). It is for all of us, many of us, for just us two, for lonesome walk by the brook me. Regardless the location or head count, if only to hear a melody or a haunting voice or blasting, lasting drums and the cadence that on your own you can rock back and forth to is half a perfect world. (maybe the best for a drum solo like this I’ve heard is Kings of Leon’s “Knocked Up”). I like to watch instrumentalists or singers as they display their respective talents to create their own companion that is music. Not all concerts are intimate, but in many you are able to grasp the depth to which a performer goes into themselves, enjoying playing what we hear at least as much as we enjoy hearing it. I saw Andre Boccelli perform about six years ago and it was shattering in the best of every way. His softly strong and resonating voice caressed his audience as many of us wept at the intensity of the beauty he was gifting us. They are sweeping themselves away while we go with them. How is that not magic?
Hearing beauty is more affecting than seeing beauty–I am willing to bet only a few will say otherwise. It’s partly unfair of course. We cannot take many beautiful sights with us as we go about our days and this makes visuals far more fleeting. What we hear travels with us most of the time when we press play or PLAY IT LOUDER. It gets to our very core. It enhances that which is already beautiful to a point the listener cannot sometimes fathom that a moment is right then magnificence itself. It’s true that sometimes other things are happening—a touching scene in a movie well scored, a drive on your own or with others on a breezy day, a vision over-looking wild willows unfolding before a child’s eye–but it is the very music that made such events memorable. It takes us to a sensory dimension we almost don’t know how to handle, and we are stunned, enraptured and even enslaved. To not want the moment to end.
Melody enhances that which is already glorious or a gladified mood, but it exaggerates every mood so that the feeling, regardless of what it is, intensifies to levels that make us keep coming back. A horror movie director depends on it. Because it can make the sun shine brighter, the ocean waves more serene, but music also brings fear and darkness to a precipitous height. The dismal, the dreary, the brilliant, the eerie — all of it more pronounced with given compositions. Not to be trite, but how many times do we play a sad piece when we’ve been broken inside, not just because we love the song, but because it gets us more quickly to the center of heart break. And in some ways the listening is a catharsis, gets us to the devastation more quickly so we can get back to happier notes sooner. Maybe. But it does lend beauty to any particular tragedy. Comes to mind one catastrophic music video. I have not heard this song since then and I know exactly why. Live’s song “Overcome” played to footage of 9-11 that aired almost immediately following that bedlam. It is horrific. And it is beautiful. We all remember clearly what we were doing that day, and even the days and weeks following. I remember sitting on the couch for days watching this piece every time it played, the repetition of which did not soften the damage of the disaster, but still somehow helped with the grief. The marrying of the terror to that haunting song simultaneously doomed and immortalized it.
A little earlier I mentioned recording music off the TV occasionally when we were younger. Miraculously, while I was in the process of writing this article unbeknownst to her, my sister accidentally found and sent me a link to one of the best music-to-movie moments I have ever seen – and it is one that I taped off the TV–the magical sounds of a pocket watch chime and ensuing orchestral music to the beginning of a the final gun duel in the Clint Eastwood movie, “For a Few Dollars More”. I had only ever heard the sweet music . What she sent me was a link to the very orchestra being directed to the scene in the background (Here). It might be a little worn from time, but in its own way is a synopsis of everything I have here written and have attempted to convey. It is musicians playing to and with their talent, the composer/magician steering them to create the spellbinding audio we are blessed enough to hear. If you read the commentary below, it is continued iteration of the power of music and how much it interweaves our lives and even partly defines us. The character, El Indio, says to Colonel Douglas Mortimer “When the chimes end, try and shoot me Colonel. Just Try.” If you only look at one link, look at that one. We rely on the chimes. May they never end.