Music as a thread of Life

Hello on a cloud, humid, almost-summer morning,

I have been working in my office and it is almost noon, so I am going to be out an about doing other work for a bit. As I meander about my daily routine, seldom does it occur that there is not some music in the background. I mentioned that aspect of my existence in a recent blog, and perhaps what most amazes me about music is a combination of the lyrics and actual sounds, sound, sounds that succeed in creating an experience and emotional connection. Those connections can transport us back to the time of our life when the song was popular, and by extension open a cornucopia of memories, people, or places. I can see faces, hear the voices, and even re-create (to some degree) the feelings that I had at that time, or remember so clearly that it emotionally connects over the years. I am not sure if that is non-sense, but I hope so.

Some of those songs are periodic, corresponding to times in my life. As importantly, the moods of the song create some sense of parallelism to what occurred in my life. I remember a song by the Guess Who titles “Share the Land.” It might be my first remembrance of a sort of social justice, which a central component of who I am now. I am not sure how that resonated with me at that time. A second song (for which I had the 45) was Edwin Starr and was titled “War,” which might be ironic for a future 17 year old who would enlist in the Marine Corps. I remember sneaking out of house to Grandview Park to see the Five Man Electrical Band and listening to the song “Signs.” What do these songs have in common? They were against the status quo, and the only way this undersized, insecure little guy could find his voice. Indeed music become my voice, and, of course, the higher the volume, the more emphatic I became. The first two albums I purchased were Jethro Tull Aqualung (which was a biting assessment of the Roman Catholic Church) and Black Sabbath Paranoid, and of course Ozzy was fearless in pushing the envelope.

The other musicians influential as I went through high school were because of my older brother, an amazing trombonist, whose band made quite a name for themselves in the early 1970s. The first Chicago album (and particularly “Beginnings” and “Questions 67 and 68”) the album by Chase or BS&T and their music have me sitting on the basement steps of my parent’s house listening to the band practice, the drums and Dennis Brunssen’s bass rattling my mother’s cans out of the cupboard. Listening to my best friend singing “Let it Be” for homecoming or being exposed to the incredible music of Tommy Bolin, the profoundly talented hometown guitarist who would play with both the James Gang and Deep Purple, was central to my growing up. Music was central to my feeling positive in the years I grew up. It was one of the places I found both a sense of accomplishment and a place I could find words that made sense of my life. Growing up, my involvement in high school choir, an All-City Children’s Choir, an All-City Orchestra, church choirs, singing in both The Messiah or Brahms’s Ein Deutsches Requiem were times I felt music did more to sustain me than most anything in my life. Learning to play the guitar during the year I traveled on a Lutheran Youth Encounter Team and working with Campus Ministry Teams while a student at Dana were important because of the music as much as the development of the teams.

There are two specific times I felt transported back into even another century by the music I listened to. The first time was when I was in college and I sat in a cathedral in Lubeck Germany. I listened to an organist play the music of Dietrich Buxtehude, the Danish/German composer. I could have sat there for days. Some years later I was back in Germany, Leipzig to be exact. We were in the Thomas Kirche, where Bach is buried. My seminary group was treated to an incredible recital of sorts by the German organist Holm Vogel. He played excerpts from Bach’s Organ Concertos. It was stunning, not only because of the setting, the music, or the incredible instrument. Mr. Vogel was one of the most accomplished organists I have ever heard or witnessed, but that is only the beginning of the story. He was so accomplished he was commissioned by the East German Government to record these concertos. Yet, even that was not the most amazing thing about being able to hear Mr. Vogel, it was that he was blind from birth. They led him to the organ, helped him get situated, and away he went. It was perhaps the most incredible musical moment of my life. It seems that whenever I consider some part of my life, the music of that period is barely below the surface and sometimes it is front and center.

As noted, music often offered the words to the emotions, the struggles, the hopes, or the concerns that characterized my life at that point. Even now, yes, it is possible for me to hear a song and remember amazing things that seem incongruent or impossible to connect to that music, but songs like “Song for America” by Kansas, “Dreamweaver” by Gary Wright, or the album Night at the Opera by Queen remind me of a 1971 Chevelle and my times out of the service and two friendships that shaped much of my life at that time. They were brother and sister, and I am blessed by their presence in my life yet today. The early music of Heart will push me to remember the incredible love I felt for one, which I was so unprepared to feel or manage (if I can use that word). I love her to this day. Songs my KC and the Sunshine Band, Art Garfunkel’s solo album (and his song “I Believe”) were more consequential than I could have ever understood. In spite of my struggles to understand who I was as a 22 year old, what I know now is I grew more in that time than I also realized; in fact, I think I am still realizing the importance of that. As write this and reflect on that time in my life, I remember music being one of the things that gave me a sense of being grounded. That was so important because I was floundering in so many ways.

Sometimes it is through the writing and reflecting about the music that I am allowed to connect and rediscover what the music meant to me then, and even now. Often when I am working in my office, where I have three monitors on my desk, it is not uncommon for me to YouTube so many of those songs and listen again, feeling, and yes, reconnecting. Nostalgia is an interesting thing. I have studied the idea of nostalgia academically, but it is a much different thing when I consider it personally. One of the things I am guilty of, and it is not uncommon, is remembering things with a sort of rose-colored glasses, not to sound too cliché. It is easy to fool one’s self believing the ideas of it was a simpler time, a kinder time. Nostalgia is emotional and perhaps that is why it connects so seamlessly to music because music evokes emotion. And if music creates a thread, as I argue in a title, there is an intrinsic connection to what was. Ralph Harper, the person credited with developing existentialism noted that nostalgia has a rather dichotomous aspect, taking both the good and the bad, the positive experience when reconsidered allows for a sort of loveliness because of our enchantment with it (“Nostalgia: and Existential Exploration . . . “). Perhaps that is what music does for me. It returns to me to those times in my life when I wish something different might have happened. It allows me to ponder the possibility that never happened, but then again it provides a happier reminiscing. The fair question is it helpful or less than? I am not sure there is an easy answer. As I researched this idea of memory of nostalgia, it caught be off guard a bit that another term used consistently was melancholy. If you have read my blog for sometime, that is a word I have often used to describe more of my life and a sort of basic emotional element of who I am. It is something I wonder about from time to time.

What I realize more and more is there is a certain introspective propensity I possess. It is consistent with my wondering the why of things. It is, for me, the practical side of reality. It is also how I allow the identity that is constantly evolving to find the real person I was, I am, or perhaps the person I still aspire to be. Aspiration . . . what is it I aspire to be? Have I made it? How might I know? I think what I aspire to be is a difference maker in other people’s lives; not always in some profound earth-shattering, life-altering manner, but rather in a way that makes their life better. And to return to where the blog began, that is what music does for me that is perhaps so important. It connects me to the past, but it inspires me to move forward, holding on the important memories that are significant to my life, but also containing the thread that is still developing a new fabric, a new garment. The video below is another song that connects be to the time that where was profound change in our world, but one that connects us to what is currently occurring in Ukraine and because of the Russian invasion. It is a reminder that the world in which we live is dependent on each other. I hope music can create a new wind of change for all. The initial picture is also an important memory for me. It is three years ago I had the opportunity to visit Moscow and Ana, my Russian adopted daughter of sorts. It was an incredible experience and ironically connects to the video below. Again, the threads are apparent.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Published by thewritingprofessor55

I am a professor at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and the director of and Professional and Technical Writing minor, a 24 credit certificate for non-degree seeking people, and now a concentration in Professional Writing and Digital Rhetoric. We work closely to move students into a 4+1 Masters Program with Instructional Technology. I love my work and I am content with what life has handed me. I merely try to make a difference for others by what I share, write, or ponder through my words.

8 thoughts on “Music as a thread of Life

  1. hello Dr.Martin,
    I found this piece very relatable, and it made me think about how often I associate a person, memory, or object with certain songs. For instance, anytime I hear ‘carry on my wayward son’ I think of the tv series supernatural. This makes me think of the people who have Synesthesia, which is a condition that allows these people to hear colors. Every song or word is a different color to them. I find this fascinating as the human mind can do so many strange things.

  2. HI Dr. Martin!
    I found this blog post to be highly relatable. I definitely agree that hearing a song from the past can take you back to that point in your life. When I hear a song from the past, most of the time I can envision exactly what was going on in my life at that point and time and how my emotions felt as well. The audience of this post would be people who also appreciate how music can impact their feelings. The purpose of this piece would be to open the eyes of individuals that music is more than just a certain rhythm and lyrics. It can be a way to express feelings, thoughts, and emotions.

  3. It just goes to show the power behind music and the importance of our emotions. Remembering past experiences is a special kind of empowerment, but it takes strength to look back on the past. Strength to look back, strength to move forward, and you are always rewarded for both. Music can help us cope with those melancholic feelings when we look back on our past, and invoking these emotions purposefully to deal and address them can in turn give us more strength to move on.

  4. Music is just something that transcends time and emotions. I know that when I listen to a song, it often takes me back to a memorable time I listened to it, or more likely the first time. Just yesterday I was listening to my music and “Dance the Night Away” by Cream came on, and it took me back to a time when I was at my sisters’ cheer practice and was first diving into “Disraeli Gears”. This phenomenon also reminds me of the song “Springsteen” by Eric Church where he talks about how it’s “funny how a melody sounds like a memory,” and that listening to several different Bruce Springsteen songs remind him of a time he was 17 and with a certain girl. Music can really take us places, new and old.

  5. Music has entwined itself into my life. My first memories of its effects are when I was in elementary school listening to my phonograph, ok I’m not that old, my portable record player. I listened for hours to Peter Pan, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, and the Sound of Music. There were others but I loved the stories and songs engaging my imagination. This is where I learned to sing. There was a brief period of piano lessons, but I found my talents lay with the vocal end of music rather than the instrumental side. As I grew older, I joined the Children’s Christmas Choir at church and in high school was a member of the chorus. I even audition for the Seasonal Singers and made the cut and was recorded singing in the city courthouse for a radio program. To this day I still love singing Christmas carols from October to January but now I do it with my daughter.
    Music and how it is appreciated varies from person to person. I made this discovery when I met my husband who does not sing but loves to listen to musical tones with as much clarity as possible. He adjusts treble and bass adds preamplifiers, amplifiers, equalizers, and other components to produce the clearest unmuffled sound possible. While I listen to the words of the song the instruments present but in the background, he does the opposite. Not that I do not appreciate the instruments or clarity of the sound, but my viewpoint is from a singer’s perspective while my husband’s viewpoint is from the producer’s perspective.
    My son makes original guitar recordings and posts them on You Tube. I asked him what he is thinking about when creating his music and he said that to him when he is creating a song “it is like putting the pieces of a puzzle together”. I thought this was very interesting how we, myself my husband and my son all appreciate music but from different approaches.
    Music is for everyone. Even people who say they hate rap, or they hate classical music only know this because they were exposed to different types of music. My granddaughter who is twenty-three months old loves music. She knows how to turn on the stereo in her home where her music track is stored. She listens and dances with joy. Which reminds me of a video I have watch for my leadership class of a man who had Parkinson’s and could hardly walk who listened to a song that he liked and while that song played danced with his physical therapist. Amazing, music is amazing and a gift that all from the young to old can appreciate.
    Ann Lockavich

  6. What is music? At the end of the day, I guess music is just an organized sound. However, this simple definition fails to encapsulate a complete understanding of music. As you said, music has the power to resurface our long and forgotten memories. For example, I remember the Spanish lullaby my father would sing to me as a child; simply thinking about the song allows me to relive my childhood memories. I can even remember what my favorite song was when I was about 9 years old. Looking back now, my then’ favorite song’ is such an inappropriate song… I can’t believe my parents ever let me listen to it. Regardless, even just remembering the song floods memories into my head of listening to them in a long car ride with my family. Personally, music has always been a gateway to a different time in my life.

    However, I can’t say I’ve ever been transported to another time period outside my own life. I love oldies, and I even love to listen to classical music. However, the times I listen to this music have never transported me to a different time. Instead, I’m enjoying the gift from the past in the present time. I do hope I can experience this sensation one day.

  7. Music is a very powerful thing in many events. It can make you sad, happy or any emotion. It respresnts life and events through its words and meaning. To me there has always been a song to represent my life. Every year my genre of music changes. For example, while living in bloom anf being in a sorority, I listened to a lot of party music for eveything. Dont get me wrong I still do and love party music and going to the bar but its greatly changed after my life in college. I started to really enjoy country music because of the meaning behind the songs. The words and meaning were very positive and encouraging during hard times. And I know the more in my life the more changes to music will come.
    This is the same for events in the world. Especially today with the many issues in our world such as shootings, russian war on Ukraine amung others. Music yes unites all together in the song but also motivates us as a people. We are so moved by music that we are called to be strong, stand up and develop our own opinions on what we think is right. Music inspires rallies, movies, and strikes. What I hope to see is that music helps us solve issues. It will take time and energybut hopefully music helps us be open to the thought.
    Lastly, the most interesting this to me is that the way music works is, it is unique to every person and situation. Siblings growing up together dont even have the exact same taste. I think music factors into our ways to be unique individuals. With it we are so much the same and yet beautifully different.

  8. Hello Professor,
    I believe music in some way, shape, or form has made its way into everyone’s lives. We can all remember a time, or place a particular song might bring us back to. We might remember a quote or even try live by a quote. I personally listen to a lot of different genres of music and feel every song is valuable. That does not mean I like every song however there are plenty of songs I do not like. I listen to music a lot, I listen to it while playing video games, driving, and doing school work. I am sure some of us can relate that when we listen to music while typing we have to be careful not to get lost and start typing lyrics. It is truly amazing how music affects our brains and can change emotions based on the mood of the song.

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