O, the rising of the sun,
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ,
The holly bears a bark,
As bitter as the gall,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ,
For to redeem us all.
~ Andrew Petersen, “The Holly and the Ivy Christmas Carol”
OK, so I’m stuck with speakers through my computer, hearing aids to enhance my listening ability, a three-stack set of shelves that hold a broad selection of CDs, and much of the time the various musical sources serve as escape mechanisms for my written pieces that readers say are marginal—if not full-out lousy—newspaper articles.
So, rather than devour complaints and put my mind to use for the evaluation of what others are saying about my thoughts, I simply turn up the speakers, tilt my wheelchair back a notch or two and listen to Springsteen lament the passing of Elvis Presley. It works wonders on the brain.
It does not make me see physical changes on that part of my anatomy that come and go depending on the song. That data belongs to scientists. My musical data becomes part of a consciousness that emanates as feelings. I feel its effects rather understand its elements.
Where do human beings’ feelings fit in this thing we call life? Let’s not forget that life is limited. I am being made aware of that as I move closer to the end of my own. In addition to the physical changes one goes through, disallowing what one used to be able to do, there are the recognitional ones too, often brought about by the deaths or severe disabilities of friends and relatives.
I’ve outlived others, but I have lost half a leg in the process. How did that happen? It happened through age and infection, two items I could do little to deter—the aging a foregone conclusion, the infection often something that goes along with it, the amputation a medical treatment.
So, how does music help us make it through these changes of age?
My son recently gave me two books by and about musicians. The first was Levon Helm’s autobiography, the second the autobiography of Willy Nelson. I rather struggled through the two authors descriptions of songs they wrote and how these songs and instruments played for and about humanity.
Take Levon Helm for instance, an Arkansas rambler in a largely Canadian band. He brought much of the culture of his home southland to bear on that of his northern brethren, and he did that through his musicianship, largely drumming, no less. (Were you “beating out the meaning of life,” Levon?)
The dent of Helm’s lyrics he felt needed to be imprinted on others’ lives as well as his own. “The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down,” “The Weight,” “Life is a Carnival,” “Stage Fright,” were songs that grew from his brain to hit the audience where they lived. When it happened it gave music an imprimatur that matches literature.
Willy Nelson, on the other hand, sees music as a source of power. Certain songs heal wounds of the mind. The fact that they have been sung many times by many different people is “evidence that these old melodies and old lyrics, like old prayers, had proven their power.” Power even goes to the point of understanding despair. Take Willy’s singing of “Home Motel.” It’s where he goes when day is through. It’s off the beaten path, a place to go on “Lost Love Avenue.” Its power goes to the singer and the listener’s understanding of life.
Music may be a bubble in the universe, a space ship that touches down and takes off as people feel it explains galactic events to them.
Is it a native element of the universe? Of the millions of galaxies out there, does music provide sustenance in nearly all of them? Humans are a relatively small part of one star’s planets. That they encourage something called music to define their lives probably means that that “definingness” occurs around a potentially large number of stars. It could quite easily be an element among the millions of stars and planets in the galaxies.
A little closer to home, the Christian holidays are wrapped around music, much of which crosses country boundaries. I’m currently feasting on a CD by the Irish band, The Chieftains, that contains numbers ranging from the “Bells of Dublin” to “A Breton Carrol” to a “Brafferton Village/Walsh’s Hornpipe.”
So, as is often the case, humanity may or, then again may not, be the cosmic feature that brings something to light.
It may be time to follow the lead of the Muppet “Animal” as he bangs on the drums and yells to the heavens —– “MUUSIIC!”