Music is the most powerful art form. More powerful, even, than mime.
Sorry, that was a cheap shot at an easy target that can’t talk back. But when it comes to emotional, physical power—to moving people, to holding sway over the human heart and spirit—music is the supreme art.
I know this from personal experience. All my life there has been a lot of music in my home. I don’t mean we were always listening to Great Music; nor do I mean that my family is exceptionally talented at music. Neither string quartets or the Marsalis family regularly played in my living room. In fact, most of the music has been decidedly lowbrow, and while some of the songs were marvelous, many of them were forgettable.
There were the old favorites, albums for the Christmas holidays—some of these were unbelievably schlocky, but we loved them. There were a smattering of show tune albums—to this day brief snatches of songs from “The Music Man” and “Oklahoma” come popping out of my mouth, unconnected to any event in my day or even the rest of the song. There were the tunes my parents loved and tunes each of their kids liked. When I became a parent there was new batch of music—the music parents buy to entertain and educate their children, and then the music my kids discovered on their own. It was important to me to instill an appreciation of certain music in my children, and so of course they ignored everything I said. However, they are music lovers, so I accomplished something.
We make our own music, too. My mother could play one song on the piano: “Glowworm.” She enjoyed the absurdity of knowing only that one song and played it with great gusto. I still have the sheet music. Over the years we’ve sung and played in our living room, in basements, driving in cars, hiking, at summer camp, church, at school, playing games, and at demonstrations. We sing for holidays and birthdays and just because there’s a party going on. Sometimes we sing with the conviction that singing itself can change the world—as if the fate of the human race is at stake—and sometimes we sing just to annoy each other.
Music does indeed have the power to annoy, like that commercial jingle you can’t get out of your head, or the horrible song that becomes a major international hit, played again and again by radio stations and your neighbors until you go mad. I have had the theme song from The Flintstones stuck in my head for decades (it is, admittedly, a very catchy number). But the hostility we feel for bad or commercial music simply demonstrates in a negative way how powerful this art form is—as does the use of music by corrupt governments and ideologies to control the minds of their subjects. Not that I am implying the CIA used The Flintstones theme song to brainwash an entire nation.
Music may be abused or used for trivial purposes, but its power to move us can not be diminished. This is because it connects us as nothing else can. I can change my son Daniel’s life by taking him to one concert; the song I sing with my daughter Laura will remain with her long after I am gone. I forget most of the music I’ve ever listened to, but some of those songs have the power to transport me back in time, or bring me to tears, or make me believe in a world of universal love and hope.
A wonderful quality of music is that we are all welcome to try our hand at it, whether we are the greatest vocalist or one of millions upon millions singing in the shower. (I wonder if great vocalists sing in the shower.) Music allows us to express and evoke emotions that would otherwise remain trapped within. Absent music, we would, in a sense, be mute. Music fuels the engine of our passion. It is the touchstone of our lives, connecting us one to another, and the very expression of the human soul.