Living in Harmony: A study of the power of music

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When I was about six, I started taking piano lessons. Tita Teresita was a friend of the family, and she was an incredibly gifted pianist and instructor. “I want to teach your children,” she had told my mother one day during a social call. My parents were young; the budget was tight. “We can’t afford you,” my mother explained. “Listen,” Teresita responded. “One day, your children will leave the Faith. They will leave … and music will bring them back.” I went to lessons almost every week for nearly five years after that. 

“Music will bring them back.” Back to what, exactly? While Teresita referenced a return to faith and Christianity, her sentiment more broadly recognizes the peculiar power of music to recall us to life and bring us back to ourselves. Music makes us feel things; it makes us think things. 

I attended the Dallas Symphony Orchestra a couple weeks ago, and the holistic richness of the experience left me thoroughly stunned. 

While I had expected to be wowed –– one doesn’t go into performances of both Rachmaninoff and Holst’s “The Planets” thinking anything less — I did not anticipate how much of an intellectual exercise listening to the symphony would be. As the music flowed, crashed, and echoed through the hall, my mind was pulled in as many directions as my heart. I found myself thoroughly humbled, particularly during the third movement of  “The Planets.” 

The movement is Holst’s interpretation of the astrological figure of Jupiter, and it begins with a hint of flurried joy that morphs into a very forthright, playfully serious sort of dance. I could almost see King Arthur’s court, full of virtuous delight, eagerly moving through a gorgeous spring meadow in time with the music. Then the jovial party pauses, and looks up. 

The music shifts, and a solemn hymn of praise rises to the sky. It seems a bit jarring, at first. And then the realization sinks in: how can one not worship when surrounded by so much noble beauty? This was the question that stayed with me through the rest of the program, and it was still on my mind the next evening when I found myself at Billy Bob’s for a Brothers Osborne concert. 

The world’s largest honky-tonk is a very different venue than the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, and Brothers Osborne is a very different vibe than Rachmaninoff and Holst. One might say that the two clash spectacularly. Yet I couldn’t help but notice how complementary the two experiences were as my friends and I sing-shouted and bopped along to the country tunes. Though the well-worn wood and smoky ambiance of the neon lights in Billy Bob’s contrasted sharply with the grand setting and formal, inspiring solemnity of the symphony, the Brothers Osborne concert inspired just as much passion and joy as Holst with its simple roughness and raw invitation to community. 

As an audience, we danced together, cheered together, recorded videos and photobombed— together. There was no need to think deeply about the music; following along was easy. Instead, there was the opportunity to enjoy the simplicity, the messiness of life: to feel the wistfulness of imperfect love in “Stay a Little Longer” and revel in the chaotically humorous challenges of our broken humanity in “Ain’t My Fault.” 

I realized, as the night progressed, that worship is not just found in those grand tributes to the sacred things we feel deeply. It is found in the exuberant celebration of the marvelous mundanity we encounter in day-to-day living. The power of music is its capacity to be both.

And so music brings us back— back to an appreciation for the depth of life, and also for its breadth. Music helps us find ourselves as we work to sort through the emotions of life and figure out what we think about the world and our experiences in it. Music reminds us to live: to fully, truly, live. The only thing we need to do is listen.

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