Why Music is Comforting On Your Worst Days: 2 Musicians Perspectives

Why Music is Comforting On Your Worst Days: 2 Musicians Perspectives

Creative Musings on the intersection of music and sorrow
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Music and emotion are tightly interwoven. It’s my pleasure to collaborate with Eric Pazdziora, a doctoral student in music who among many other things has put arranged a lovely collection called Hymns and Lamentations for piano. He also volunteered this poignant narrative about his experiences teaching music theory after a tragedy on the news. Following Eric's piece, I wrote a poem about performing music and emotions. Thanks so much Eric!

Our fellow musicians, let us know what you think in the comments below.

***

"And Maybe That's Part of the Meaning of Life" by Eric Pazdziora

We have to think about it like this.

It’s the morning after a horrible event in the news, again. A shooting or a bombing or a hate crime, something depressing and violent and political like that. It’s left everyone a bit numb.

I’m teaching the students in my music theory classroom. Everyone seems to be feeling a bit somber, again. I never know exactly what to say, because who ever does know exactly what to say. I don’t want to preach in the classroom, but I also don’t want to say nothing. Times like these, the right words are hard to find.

Today’s lesson, I see on the syllabus, is about harmony. So we’re looking at a chorale by J. S. Bach. “Jesu, Meine Freude,” or maybe “O Haput Voll Blut und Wunden.” It doesn’t quite matter, you can get the same lesson from any of them.

It’s a simple piece of music, as these things go, a short hymn for four voices. The tune isn’t even Bach’s own; as choirmaster he harmonized church songs of his day for his Lutheran congregation. The chorale is little more than a string of chords, each combining to form rhythms and phrases and cadences and dissonances and all those technical tricks of the trade that every musician envies Bach for using so effortlessly.

I copy it out on the chalkboard first, in silence because nobody feels like saying anything much. We look at the text, translating roughly from the German: “O head, full of blood and wounds.” “Ah, how long, how long has my heart suffered and mourned?” Words about the suffering and death of Christ, about times when faith is hard to find, about sorrow and longing and mourning. How would a great composer like Bach approach the task of setting words like these? What does music have to say about them?

There’s something about music that seems to speak directly to people’s deepest thoughts and feelings. I’ve tried to—not find answers, really, but start articulating the right questions—through some of my compositions like Hymns and Lamentations and Canticles for the Holy Innocents. The words of hymns and sacred texts often portray our reaching out to God, though sadly they’re often presented with a certain superficiality, an unwillingness to confront the emotional reality of suffering. But when they’re coupled with music that truly illuminates their meaning—pieces like Handel’s Messiah, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, Brahms’s Ein Deutsches Requiem, Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms—the results can touch us more deeply than we may even understand.

The technical elements in music, anyone with a bit of skill can analyze easily enough. My first-year students begin to spot a minor triad here, an inversion there, and at the end of the phrase, is that a deceptive cadence? Oh look, he’s changed from minor to the relative major and back again. Maybe that’s something.

Then we sing it. Suddenly it starts to become a bit more clear. It’s music now, not just lines on a page, and like any piece of art it can becomes more than the sum of its parts.

Everyone is singing one of the voice parts. Bach is using voice leading to make each voice part its own melody, and the melodies combine to form the chords. The chords we were analyzing before are made up of these separate lines sounding at the same time. The horizontal voice parts combine to make vertical chords. Or it could be instruments; it works the same way for any type or style of music. That’s what I wanted them to see in the Bach chorale.

And then suddenly, inevitably, I know exactly what I need to say about what happened. It was there all along in the music, whether or not we knew the right words to describe it.

I gesture to the notes on the chalkboard and I say it.

“So are these individual voice parts, or are they individual chords?

“Yes.

“Each voice part is doing its own thing, but at every moment it comes together with the others to make something that harmonizes together.

“And maybe that’s part of the meaning of life.”

We have to think about it like this.

***

When they needed it most by Lydia Solodiuk

Somebody needs this music today.
But the organist doesn't know who
so they play onward
and let the music fill the Gothic arches
and reverberate through the walls.
They can't see the congregation
their console acting as bulwark,
but in the front pew an man with a walker weeps
and the nursing mother in the narthex is comforted.








Somebody needs this music today.
But the piano teacher doesn't know who
so he teaches along
and lets the music fill the worn carpet
and reverberates into the yoga studio next door.
He can't see the student's eyes,
her bangs acting as bulwark,
but in her heart she now wants to be a music major
and the frazzled yoga teacher next door is at peace.








Somebody needs this music today.
But the choir director doesn't know who
so she conducts onward
and lets the handbell ringing fill the small hall
and reverberates through the metal folding chairs.
She can't see the audience,
her position acting as bulwark
but now a couple shyly holds hands
and a child gazes at the choir in wonder.








Somebody needs this music today
But the grandson doesn't know who
so he opens his hymnal and walks over
and lets his singing fill the sickroom
and reverberates through the bay window.
He can't see his dying relative's face
his hymnal acting a bulwark
but now anguished moans have quieted
and a hospice aide prepares meds as he hums.







Somebody needs this music today
But the neighbor doesn't know who
so he blares country music crusing along
and lets his radio fill the Saturday afternoon
and reverberates through the air.
He can't see the second-story window
his tinted windows acting as bulwark
but now scattered lyrics have convinced mom to call a babysitter
and go out dancing like the old days.







The lyricist, artist and recording studio never met that lady,
but their song made an afternoon beautiful.
That chorale arrangement in that hymnal was 400 years old,
but it coated grief in harmony.
That handbell piece was a last minute choice,
but it wrapped up that concert like a present.
That piano sonata was written for the Viennese court
but it still entertained and enraptured a humbler audience.
That organ piece filled a liturgical function
but it also filled people's hearts

on a day when they needed it most.

Somebody needs this music today.












Cover Image Credit: Public Domain

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If Taylor Swift Songs Were Types Of Alcohol

Because what's better than a drink and some T-Swift?
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With Taylor Swift's quick return to the music scene... and in a big way, might I add, I decided to associate some of the best Taylor Swift songs with alcohol.

I mean, who wouldn't want to drink to Taylor Swift's catchy melodies and perfect choruses to get over an ex or tell someone exactly how you feel about them?

Taylor Swift has been around for a decade at this point, and let's face it, pretty much all of her songs could go along with at least one type of alcohol.

1. "Welcome To New York" - Moscow Mule

It only makes sense. Visit the Big Apple and you have to indulge in the state's signature cocktail. Moscow mules are a New York classic, and if it's your first night in the city and you haven't bought yourself one, are you even in New York?

2. "Blank Space" - Everclear

Think about it... A night of drinking Everclear will leave you with a giant blank space the next day. You might also look like Taylor did in the music video.

3. "Tim McGraw" - Beer

Tim McGraw is a throwback to Taylor's high school love. What better way to reminisce than with a couple friends and a keg of your favorite cheap beer?

4. "Style" - Cristal Champagne

What's more stylish than with a glass of the most expensive bubbly you can find? Just like Taylor Swift, Cristal will never go out of style.

5. "Shake It Off" - Martini

Get it? Cause you shake a martini? I might be the only one who thinks that's funny but you might end up dancing a little bit with a martini in hand when "Shake It Off" come on the radio.

6. "Red" - Merlot


Red has to go along with a red wine. What else could go along with yet *another* T-Swift breakup song?

7. "22" - Margaritas

Let's face it, when you're 22, you really only drink margaritas. They're fun- and all the hipsters are probably drinking them too.

8. "Teardrops On My Guitar" - Southern Comfort

When your heart is broken, who are you going to turn to besides the only alcohol that gives you comfort...Southern Comfort that is.

9. "I Knew You Were Trouble" - Fireball

I can't say I've ever met anyone who spent a night with Fireball and didn't regret it the next morning.

10. "Look What You Mad Me Do" - Tequila

T-Swift's latest single is an angry one. What better to make you angry than tequila? Taylor basically just called out everyone who had ever talked about her behind her back and she did it in true Taylor fashion-by writing a song. She was probably drunk on tequila when she wrote it too.

11. ...Ready For It? - Bottomless Mimosas

Because it's just that good.

Cover Image Credit: YouTube

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Board Games Are More Important Than You Think They Are

They've become a defining part of my family.

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Remember when you were a kid and you'd have a family game night? Or your friends would come over and you'd open the game cabinet and play at least three different games together?

Maybe it's just me, but those are some of my best memories from my childhood. My family loves games, board games, and electronic games.

Of course, as I got older, gaming consoles like PlayStation and Wii became more and more popular. That meant that the game cabinet was opened less and less, collecting dust.

Thankfully, I live in New Jersey near the shore and Hurricane Sandy left my family with no power for five days. Sure, it was scary not having power and walking around my neighborhood seeing fallen trees or roof shingles, but we were inland enough to not have had any flood water damage.

No power also meant no PlayStation or Wii games. The gaming cabinet was opened again, this time with vigor. Now, four years later, and I still think about sitting in the dark with a flashlight playing Scrabble with my family.

That was also the week I learned how to play Yahtzee and dominated my dad in every game. My sister constantly was looking for someone to play her to Battleship. We exhausted Rummikub.

The game was already a family favorite, and that's including extended family. Family barbeques had been ending with late night games of Rummikub for at least a year by the time Sandy hit.

We were ready to strategize and crunch numbers, but after day three, we never wanted to a number ever again.

This semester, there's been a surge of board game love again in my family. My sister bought Jenga, which we are currently trying to exhaust ourselves with. My favorite board game also had a comeback: Life.

I loved this game so much that I had the SpongeBob version as a kid. I would play it with my best friend, just the two of us, playing game after game of Bikini Bottom themed Life. Now, I have a car full of "kids" that I've started to make pets in my head. I can handle having five pretend dogs, but not five pretend kids.

I don't know what it is about board games, but my family has always had an affinity for them. We've gone through our cycles of playing video games and card games, but we always come back to the classics. Maybe it's more a defining part of my family than I originally thought.

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