Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Swaying to the Rhythms of Life

I have a secret to share. I’m a music-holic. It’s an addiction. I got hooked at an early age.

My father put a vinyl record of Big Band music on his stereo turntable. Then he lifted me up and put my tiny feet on top of his and we danced around the room to the sounds of Glenn Miller, Harry James, Jan Savitt and Louis Jordan.

Music has been around for a long time. Not surprisingly, the Greeks were the ones who finally got around to naming it for us. The word music comes from mousikê, which is derived from mousa, the Greek word for muse. (The Greeks believed there were nine goddesses called muses that inspired the arts and sciences.) In the European Middle Ages, music was considered a branch of mathematics. Fortunately, I was not aware of that when I was younger, or I might have avoided music altogether.

Music possesses many magical qualities. For one, it tends to bind people together. Most countries have a national anthem. Armies have had drummers follow them into battle to stir up patriotic fervor. Religions have chants or hymns to express devotion and celebrate holidays. Heck, even our high school football team had a song. The lyrics were not too profound, but the opening lines "We want a touchtown. Yes, we do, we want a touchdown!" got the general point across.

Songs tend to harbor memories. When I met my husband, there was a song playing. That is now our song. Whenever I hear it, my heart still melts, even though the song is actually quite cheesy. Tunes can remind us of a season, a place or a person. My father died in 1995, but whenever I hear Big Band music, it still reminds me of him.

My daughter, right, partakes in karaoke, a 
popular activity among drunken Japanese 
businessmen and today's youth.
Can you imagine life without the background of vocals and instrumentals? Like books, music transports us to another realm of existence. No matter how low I may feel, if I put on some lively tunes, I cheer up. If I have a boring task to do, like housework, I plug my iPhone into some speakers and get so caught up in the sounds that I’m almost sorry when the task is done.

Did you know that music can help with parenting? While I enjoy belting out a good tune, my family doesn't like listening to me. This, however, has worked to my advantage. When my children were small, if they didn't finish their meals, I threatened to sing and that would get them to gobble up every last crumb. Put that one in your book on child-rearing, Dr. Spock!

Music can be a source of comfort and strength. It is telling that when the Titanic was sinking, a band played on deck until the rising waters stilled the musicians. When a plane recently had trouble in mid-flight, a chorus on board returning from a performance began singing and everyone calmed down. When minorities in this country suffered from injustice and repression, they raised their voices in gospel and the Blues.

There is some part of the brain, or maybe the soul, that is stirred and soothed by music. Perhaps it appeals to something primitive in all of us. It may journey through our cell memories down generations of human existence. From the rhythmic beat of a stick on a hollow log and chanting to the development of instruments and choral harmony, music has evolved with us. It is as necessary as oxygen and food in nourishing and sustaining us. It begins with lullabies at the cradle and accompanies us through grade school, dating, weddings, anniversaries and finally bids us farewell at our own funerals. It is truly the rhythm of life.

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