Music Makes Me Feel Something
the question of what music means to me is a daunting task. I would prefer to
respond with signifiers of the ineffable – smiles, grunts, whistles, slack
jaws, and the like. Yet not long before Enjoy the Music.com's Creative
Director Steven R. Rochlin asked us to write about the question, it had occurred
to me as well. Like so many other facets of our life since the advent of the
pandemic, music has been illuminated in a very different light. Not better or
worse, but different: in some ways its "meaning" or its place in my life shines
more brightly, and in others it reveals less.
I suspect that most of us who write for this magazine and others like it have not just a love for and an interest in a wide range of music, but also a strong emotional and physical response to it. Of course, that is at least somewhat true of a goodly percentage of humanity – it is a commonplace to note that music is the universal language because well, yes, it is. I underline the emotional and physical aspect because it is clear that while almost everyone likes (some kind of) music, not everyone is transported by it, and not everyone will experience chills or tears from music.
I want to underline that I'm specifically not intending to suggest some hierarchy here ("we love music more than you, nyahnyah"). Rather, the hyper-analytical geekiness that often typifies the audiophile subculture comes with some real gut-level emotion.
During These Times...
I suppose this is all a long introduction to say that if music
can bring joy in times of fear and uncertainty, it is only because it has been
doing that job all along. We just didn't notice it as clearly because the skies
weren't so dark. Maybe that's how it was during the world wars (or any wars) in
the last century; I was fortunate not to be alive during those times.
A mental image I have about the music that I love – regardless of type – is of a force that slices through everything. For me, it stands outside space and time, even as both space and time are essential structural components of music. I think that that image is a function of the emotional reactions that it produces. Joy, tears, chills, nostalgia, apprehension, tension, relief, sadness, and more arise instantly and can transform just as quickly.
Nothing Stands In The Way
Enough shallow rhapsodizing: what music does this for me? That
is also far too general a question to tackle in a short essay. I will say that
as time passes, more and more genres appeal to me – again, that may be true
for many of us, so I am saying nothing exceptional. I will instead mention just
a few favorite pieces and try to put my finger not on what makes them good or
great music but why they play in my key and give a frisson every time.
In random order:
Mozart Clarinet Concerto by Richard Stoltzman / English Chamber Orchestra [RCA ARL1-3934]. Not only is this beautiful concerto full of joy, but the mental image of Stoltzman (a quirky musician with a huge smile) enjoying himself lifts me even more. The gorgeous Adagio is serious and quiet and sets off the first and third movements all the better. It's a roller coaster ride, but as sweet as one can imagine.
"This Old Heart Of Mine" by the Isley Brothers. It's a perfect pop tune and a quintessential Motown song, but what grabs me are (a) the energy, a Ferrari-like acceleration from the first note, and (b) Ronnie Isley's impassioned vocal. To this day, I believe that he feels the emotions expressed in the lyrics; my eyes tear up in sympathy for him. Yeah, it's stupid, but it happens every time.
What" by Miles Davis on his popular album Kind of Blue.
This cut may be on many lists, for many reasons. From the bass notes at the
beginning, "So What" is for me a big exhale, a relaxation that pulls me away
from wherever I am to allow me to hear into a complexity that I cannot
understand, and yet love. This is the calmest and least driving piece on my
shortlist. I don't know just where the chills come from. Time almost stands
still, one waits for the next note, and it arrives, often as a surprise but
right on time.
Calling" title tune from The Clash. Like the Isley Brothers song above,
this starts out with an explosion of pent-up energy being released. They have me
on the first notes, but the melody is terrific, the march matches the anthemic
urgency of the lyrics and the vocals, and it doesn't let go. Today, the song
conjures a mix of emotions: being there and being young, and nostalgia for being
there and being young. With forty years having passed, it might even be richer
now but it is no less thrilling.
Green Dolphin Street / Joy Ride" on the album Keith Jarrett At The Blue Note
[ECM 527 639-2]. Maybe my single favorite "song" of any kind, is in
actuality two songs as the title indicates. The first, a jazz classic, morphs
into the second, Jarrett's composition. The shift from minor to major and the
sheer happy-face exuberance of the second half are guaranteed to lift the
spirit. Indeed, this is a cut that doesn't want to end. It keeps going, probing
the good vibe, and extending its time in the air. And while this is not a "review"
but just personal thoughts, I can't separate the magnificent musicianship from
the beauty of the recording.