I challenge you to find anything as magical as making music. You can gather a hundred high school musicians on a stage and, even though they resist cooperation in every other setting by their very nature of being teenagers, they will let down their need for individuality in order to lend their voice or instrument to a song. Politics, religion, ethnicity, gender, and physical appearance don’t matter when you’re cradling a french horn, embracing a clarinet, or sliding a bow across a violin’s neck. What matters in that moment is listening to each other. Paying attention. And adding what you can to the song.
Somehow, these bundles of muscles, neurons, and lungs are able to process scales and notes, to memorize patterns, to coordinate their fingers and lips and breath to produce not just sound, but pleasant sounds, harmonious sounds, sounds from over 1,500 different devices we’ve invented to create different tones and pitches at different volumes on different continents. And then, songwriters and composers had the brilliance to hold all of those different instruments and sounds in their head, hear how they might play off of one another or with one another, and write notes so other people around the world could make their vision manifest into music, music others can perform, music others can sing.
What a joyful communion!
And this isn’t just a one time occurrence! We don’t just have one song, like a third of songbirds, or even just five songs, like 20% of all bird species, or even 2,000 songs, like the brown thrasher, all of which we listen to and admire for their effortlessness and beauty.
Humans have hundreds of millions of songs. Even when we can’t seem to remember where we placed our keys, we can store the melodies and lyrics of thousands of albums in our brains. We can mimic the crooners, sing along with the hit artists, make up our own melodies, and even use our voices as instruments in a capella choirs and beatboxing. Song wriggles its way into our brains in the form of earworms. Song sidles down our arms and legs and makes our feet tap, our hands clap, the goosebumps rise on our skin. Song cracks open hardened hearts so we can feel again. Even the deaf feel music, play music, dance to music, and are moved by music.
Attending a concert is to join together in a choir celebrating our humanity and the sparks of divinity within us, singing with the same breath in one voice.
We’re even able to record it and reproduce it, play it on repeat or shuffle, or go old school with a needle and turntable. We can find it wherever we go and carry it with us in our back pocket. We can listen alone or collectively, choose songs from a jukebox or be subject to the preferences of the restaurant owners. We can tune in to hundreds of different radio stations carrying song waves on radio waves via distant satellites capturing the narratives of DJs and guest hosts situated in basement studios around the globe, and we can change the channel if we want to hear a different voice, a different song, a different genre, from a different place in time and space.
I play music all day, listen to instrumentals while I write, sing along to artists while I cook, and carry it with me while I fold laundry.
Music—like all art—is impractical. It doesn’t matter in a material way. It isn’t something you can hold, and even though we pay great amounts to access it, you really can’t own it. And yet, can you imagine a more miserable existence than one without music? No music to create suspense or joy in a movie’s soundtrack. No music to capture the particular spirit of a particular silent night during a particular holiday, which then becomes a universal expression of peace, of hope, of love. No music to soothe a crying infant. No music to celebrate a birthday. No music to carry the story of love lost, love sparked, friends gathered, long winters, cold drinks, or hot summers, songs to get lost in, songs we find ourselves in.
What would life be without this wild, intentional, drumbeat to heartbeat movement collecting in our outer ears to collide with our eardrums that vibrate the waves to tiny bones in the middle ear so we can hear music?
How much richer and intimate life is with music, even this moment, washing dishes while my husband strums a guitar and writes lyrics in combinations that haven’t yet existed, watching and participating in the act of creation, witnessing something becoming out of nothing.