The Indescribable Power of Music

If Life Was A Movie, It Would Definitely Have a Score


There was a "thing" going around Facebook last week encouraging us to post the cover of an influential album from our youth. Although I did not participate, I also did not hesitate...Elton John's "Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy." I received the album as a gift with its fantastical, perplexing, surreal album cover on my 10th birthday...and I learned every word to every song, even though most of them didn't make a lick of sense to me. Then one day, after following Sir Elton's career for many years and listening to that album many times, I had a major epiphany. Through songs carefully and intentionally arranged in order, it tells the story of the early songwriting, starving-artist days of young Reginald Dwight (Elton's given name) and legendary lyricist, Bernie Taupin. Magically (and finally) it all made sense!!! Artistry and autobiography. Amazing. I actually just listened to it again today.


Another mind-numbing, time-killing exploration on social media turned up a darling video of a very animated 3-year-old little girl in the front seat of a car singing every word of several songs from several different genres...from Candy Girl to Africana. Remarkable. How can she have memorized all those songs at her age, including the inflections? And be so darn cute!!! When I need a lift, I pull up the Kabs Family on YouTube and watch little Maliya do her thing. (If she doesn't make you smile, you may have a heart of stone...just sayin'...) Powerful for me...clearly, even more powerful for her. (Keep letting that music move you, little Mali!!)


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXGUC1kq-sc


Ministry and Memories


Sunday morning, I was watching what we affectionately call "TV Church" -- Bridgepoint Florida's online broadcast service in response to COVID-19. The praise band is always good, yet this particular day I found myself particularly moved. Hillsong's "What a Beautiful Name It Is"...you have no rival, you have no equal...now and forever God you reign! (full lyrics below) Poetic language beautifully aligned with the right crescendo at the right time. I truly felt the presence of God and began singing aloud, coffee in one hand and wiping a tear away with the other. It was just what I needed in just this very snapshot of time. (Glad I was by myself! ha)


https://hillsong.com/lyrics/what-a-beautiful-name/


So I got to thinking...what is it about music that's so powerful? How does it get inside us...and stay? Is it the structure of the words, the combination of the notes, the setting...or all of that? Is it just how we are wired, how we find connection to others? Would we simply implode with emotion if we didn't have a musical avenue for expression?


From my own personal experience, the short answer is memories. Memories of good times, healing times, favorite people or favorite experiences. History and placemaking. I bet most people would say the same.


Now, I can't play or sing or any of these songs (except in the car with the radio turned up really loud), yet I know "Sweet Emotion" by Aerosmith (actually, All Things Classic Rock) will forever remind me of my dear college roommate/lifelong sister-friend (whose older brother imposed his love of rock 'n' roll onto her, which then rubbed off on me). Each time I hear "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" by Whitney Houston, I am mentally transported to Karaoke Nights, 1988 San Diego, where I'm cheering on my fun-loving, faithful gal pal as she eagerly performs her go-to song. (She really can sing!) "PYT" by Michael Jackson takes me back to club dancing with the hometown gang in the summers before we had to get real jobs.


These experiences and people have helped shape who I am, and these songs live on after I've moved on. And when my memory fails me, as it often does these days, I can find these times again in music.


Relationships and Repertoire


Not long ago, my bestie-since-the-9th-grade and I attended a "throwback" concert of The Producers, a band we followed in our Clemson days. From the first note played, we were physically and emotionally transformed into 20-year-old sorority girls again, dancing and singing "I Love Lucy, And She Don't Care" at the top of our lungs (with perhaps a little less energy, a lot less grain alcohol, and better seats). It was a phenomenon, trust me (just ask our husbands, who I feel pretty were caught a little off guard). Certain songs by Def Leppard or Rod Stewart or The Cure are forever attached to certain old boyfriends (we won't go there). My Cool Cousin, who is 4 years older than I am, got a record player before I did (she was 13 and I was only 9 at the time). As if she could get any cooler! I remember what she played for me like it was just today...Seals & Croft's "Summer Breeze." (no recollection of what I had for lunch yesterday, however...hmmm...)


Do you remember where you were when you heard Michael Jackson died, and how you felt? Karen Carpenter? Elvis?? Did you wear purple for a week (like I did) when Prince's life met its tragic end? Do you still talk about the plane crash that sadly cut short the escalating success of the Lynyrd Skynyrd band? (that might be unique to my hometown of Jacksonville...) We don't know any of these artists personally, but because their music lives in us, we mourn.


There is lots and lots of research on this subject. Just one of many articles is linked below, with a nod to a book by Elena Mannes called The Power of Music, in case you're interested.


https://www.npr.org/2011/06/01/136859090/the-power-of-music-to-affect-the-brain


The Personality Playlist


If we can go a little deeper, there is more...I would argue we've subconsciously woven music into our very identities, subtly or overtly. Musicians of any kind -- those who play an instrument, sing, compose, write lyrics, or all of that -- first of all, I'm jealous! Those extraordinary means of expression are precious gifts which I was not given. (I like to say I got in the wrong line when God was handing those talents out...) So if that's you, music truly IS your identity -- particularly if you are making a living in music, sharing it in a meaningful way, or teaching it to others. (The world thanks you.)


The kind of music we like also reflects what's inside of us, whether we want it to or not. Have you ever grabbed someone's iTunes or Spotify playlist just to see what kind of variety -- or lack of variety -- is represented there? Someone likes classical, someone likes rap (well, maybe not rap...). Someone else likes country, or Christian contemporary, or both. Someone likes only current music, someone else likes classic rock or standards. Have you ever been surprised when someone close to you reveals he/she loves a band or song that doesn't seem to fit his/her personality? (Some people are probably surprised how much I adore Prince...wink) The talented people in this world just keep coming, generation after generation, so there is something for everyone and something perfect for every moment. And we don't even really have to choose...we can have it all. Or we can listen to the same things over and over. Lucky us!!


Same As It Ever Was


Music creates a safe place. There is consistency and familiarity. When I put that Captain Fantastic LP (or CD or streaming service download) on to play, it's going to sound exactly like it did the last 1,000 times I did the same thing -- I can count on it. That popular TayTay/Maroon 5/Beyonce/Whoever song sounds exactly the same on my iTunes no matter where I am in the world, what state of mind I'm in, or what year it is. That one song I can't stand that they keep playing on the radio? I still can't stand the next time I hear it, or the next time. Good news! I can work on recalling the words to the songs I love most, or spend the time to learn them, and do something good for my brain as it ages (so maybe there is hope). I can choose songs to fit my mood...happy, sad, mellow or DANCE TIME!! I can opt out of consuming music when it's too noisy, too rough or simply not good. Sometimes tuning out can make us feel safer than tuning in.


Boy, do I need a good dose of consistency and familiarity right now. Or maybe just a good escape.


"Billboard's Top 64" According To Me


So just for fun...(I can always use a little more fun, how about you?)...here's a sample set, a "Fantasy LP" if you will, of the music that's currently holding a spot on the soundtrack of my life. Not in any order. This is far from complete, so I will keep adding.


Don't judge.


Prince - Raspberry Beret

Journey - Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin'

Elton John - Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me

Michael Jackson - The Way You Make Me Feel

Janet Jackson - Love Would Never Do Without You

Chaka Kahn - Ain't Nobody Loves Me Better

Tina Turner - I Don't Wanna Fight

Beatles - I Saw Her Standing There

Bruno Mars - Locked Out of Heaven

Peggy Lee - Sugar

Newsboys - Beautiful Sound

Swing Out Sister - Breakout

Sade - Your Love Is King

Seal - Let It Roll

Lynyrd Skynyrd - Gimme Three Steps

Carole King - Where You Lead

Klymaxx - Meeting In The Ladies Room

Beyonce - Irreplacable

Fleetwood Mac - Hold Me

Sugarland - Love

Steely Dan - My Old School

Soft Cell - Tainted Love

Howard Jones - Things Can Only Get Better

Madeleine Peyroux - Dance Me To The End of Love

Need To Breathe - Washed By The Water

Alicia Keys - Fallin' In and Out of Love

Lenny Kravitz - I Belong To You

Third Day - Show Me Your Glory

Van Halen - Jump

Basia - Time and Tide

M People - Sight For Sore Eyes

The Emotions - Best Of My Love

Luther Vandross - This Is Christmas

Kool & The Gang - Get Down On It

Paula Abdul - Promise Of A New Day

Earth Wind & Fire - Got To Get You Into My Life

Pharrell Williams - Happy

Phil Collins & Philip Bailey - Easy Lover

James Taylor - Fire and Rain

Simply Red - Stars

Madonna - Borderline

Sting - If I Ever Lose My Faith In You (jazz version especially)

Train - Marry Me

Bonnie Raitt - I Can't Make You Love Me If You Don't

Go Go's - Our Lips Are Sealed

Bob Seger - We've Got Tonight

Rascal Flatts - While You Loved Me

Eagles - Life In The Fast Lane

Tom Cochrane - Life Is A Highway (Rascal Flatts' remake is great too)

Carrie Underwood - Before He Cheats

Casting Crowns - The Voice of Truth

Michael English - Midnight Ride

Gloria Estefan - Turn The Beat Around

Go West - What You Won't Do For Love

Hot Chocolate - You Sexy Thing

Queen - Somebody To Love

Tom Petty - Free Fallin' (with the convertible top down, of course)

Jars of Clay - Like A Child

Sheryl Crow - All I Wanna Do

Indigo Girls - Closer To Fine

Rent (the Broadway musical) - Seasons Of Love

Clemson University Band - Tiger Rag (couldn't resist)

Anyone's Version (esp. Seal's) - People Get Ready

Everyone's Version - Somewhere Over the Rainbow


What's your soundtrack? What does music mean to you, and has it changed over the years? Send me your comments, please...I clearly need some more current music in my library. :)