when i was in my teens, i experienced a shift in my life. the details aren’t entirely mine to share, but i will say that things seemed to be falling apart in every area of my life, in a way that was typical to a sixteen year old girl. after one overly dramatic incident between friends, i locked myself in my room for a week solid, listening to vienna by billy joel on repeat. although it may not have been the words, the melody, the song itself that gave me the strength to face my self, it’s the song that i ultimately associate with my own courage. to this day, if ever i need to remind myself to tackle one thing at a time and not be so hard on myself. even now, listening to the song as i write, i feel myself remembering the strength it took to heal so many years ago, and knowing that the wounds i have now will heal as well.
somehow music is always there to remind me that life goes on. the past two years have been an inane struggle between losing loved ones and watching loved ones move on. death has been an almost inherent element of my life the past little while. of course, it is to music that i owe much of my strength, and from that, my healing. it is florence welch’s never let me go that has been a perpetual source of comfort for me in times of grief, no matter the situation (if you haven’t seen the video yet, watch it. it’s beautiful)
i greet the song with fresh tears, every single time i hear it – perhaps not of sadness but simply due to its power, and the experiences i associate with it. it is one of those melodies that is so hauntingly beautiful, paired with words so deeply resonant and entirely bewitching that it floods me with memories every time i hear it. watching flo perform this song live at osheaga over the summer was one of the top music moments in my life. and everyone has a song like that, don’t they? that’s the thing about music – it’s everywhere and everything. i can associate almost any sound or song to a certain moment in my life, whether unimportant or crucial to my being, so music seems to morph into a kind of timeline of me. oasis, the fray and death cab for cutie soundtracked much of my highschool experience (come on, you know you loved them too). the soundtrack to les mis will forever remind me of my family. a life changing three month exchange in france can be summed up with oasis’ wonderwall. entire friendships can be articulated through a single, momentous song (even the oldest, cheesiest song [daniel powter’s bad day, embarrassingly enough] instantly reminds me of my four best friends from high school).the dixie chicks’ landslide is eternally a souvenir of my friends from university and my first apartment. music has been the backbone of every significant moment in my life, and i’m sure if you think back, you’ll realize just how important music has been to you, too.
it’s not only the struggle that makes me appreciate music so much, it is, without question, the celebration. i think little city speaker sessions are evidence of that – what is life without a soundtrack? i know firsthand that life altering things can happen on a dancefloor. nina kraviz’ ghetto kraviz will forever remind me of this past summer. jackie wilson will always make me think of my last true love. burial’s unite puts a smile on my face as i remember an old friend. it’s a strange but perfect example of how music connects us with one another, because every song is important to someone. we are one through music, and that’s the most beautiful thing of all. imogen heap’s lifeline is an amazing example of that universal connectedness – listeners sent in sounds that she later compiled into a sublimely unique and touching song constructed with over 40 samples. within the track, you can hear the sound of her brother’s unborn baby’s heartbeat, a slinky going down the stairs, a match being lit, a squeaky dishwasher door…
find out more about lifeline here
on large scale levels as well, music unites and drives change. benefit concerts after natural disasters, international tragedy and mass atrocity are compelling movements, songs for charity and songs written in light of corruption, cruelty or sadness have, in fact, changed the world (you can read a list of many of those songs here).
so, what is it about music that makes it so essential to our very experiences, our very soul? people are constantly trying to explain the phenomenon with science. neuroscientist daniel levitin (among many, many others, i’m sure) wrote an entire book about the science of our seemingly innate obsession with music, explaining (among other things, of course) how exactly we interact with music on a mental and physical level, interpreting our connection with music on an emotive and psychological plain. levitin’s examniation was incredible in-depth, seeking to explore the way we react and interact with different components of music and how each one affects our cognitive thinking, our choices and what we associate with it – in short, why music is so powerful. it was, admittedly, a tough read for me (and maybe that’s because i’m not patient enough or not smart enough), but i feel like trying to explain or understand why such a force is the way it is, is diluting it, in and of itself. much like other sources of incredible, insurmountable power (religion, spirituality et al) – i can’t see it, but i can feel it. i’m by no means saying that we shouldn’t try to “understand” music, i’m simply saying that music understands us, and shouldn’t that be enough? when faced with the question “why music?” for me, the answer is always “why not?”
i’ve always believed that “music is the answer” – i know for a fact that i wouldn’t be who i am without music. music is always there for you, without judgement, as a shoulder to cry on, with an encouraging word. music knows exactly how you’re feeling, and exactly what to say to make you feel better, turning your distraught emotions – anger, joy, grief, ecstasy – into somehow tangible projects of your soul. music is the constant. and most importantly, music is selfless, asking for nothing in return despite years of continually healing, soundtracking, rejuvenating and intoxicating you.