I know what you’re thinking. How can one scientifically analyze a concept that, by its very nature, is capricious and unpredictable? Dr. Charles Limb, a faculty member of the Peabody Conservatory of Music, has done a fascinating study on the activity of the brain when engaged in a musical activity.
The homecoming celebration for Wheeling High School in Wheeling, Illinois had a special event attached this year. As part of the festivities, invitations were issued to all previous members of the bands throughout the years — not an easy task considering all the band students that attended Wheeling High School since 1964!
Recently, while watching an episode of Biography about the movie Jaws, my mind wandered back to the summer of my tenth year, to our family vacation in Florida and a visit to the theater where we saw, of all things, the movie Jaws. Don’t ask me why, on a family vacation to the beach, we wanted to see a movie about a man-eating shark loose in the ocean ravaging innocent people, but that’s what we did.
On a break from a practice session I walked through downtown Hayward when my ears perked at the sound of an amplifier. The familiar “Test-1-2” reached me as I rounded a corner and discovered a local blues band warming up on the patio of a restaurant.
A few minutes into the start of their first set, a small boy about the age of 8 or 9 walked up fearlessly to the lead singer. The hulking bandleader motioned for the boy to enter the band’s live performance area to “groove along” while the band vamped the 12-bar blues. After a few minutes the mic was handed over to the new ringer and the kid proceeded to belt out a few repetitions of the title line ‘I’ve Got My Mojo Workin’. The crowd went wild!
After all the older members had each taken 24 bars of solo, I spied in the kid’s small hands a harmonica, a gift given to him by the guitar player. He blew huge gulps of air into the mouth harp and continued to dance while the band played. In his eyes he was now part of the band. I couldn’t help but think that this moment was this kid’s musical “spark.”
My personal “spark” experience was seeing STOMP for the first time. I can remember being in the audience feeling tingles on my spine and picturing myself as a member of the already-famous percussion group.
Can you remember having a music moment similar to our young bluesman?
We all know that instance when music touches us in ways not easily described in words. The feeling of that musical spark is part of why we are musicians and why we teach children this mysterious form of art.
Think of every epic moment in the history of your life, and then take away the music. For most of us that thought is, frankly, unfathomable. A sonic snapshot holds so much more power for me than just about anything I’ve ever seen produced by a camera. Why? Because photographs, as lovely as they are to look at, oftentimes can only remind us of what was going on in our lives the moment they were taken — whereas one artist, one band, one song even, can bring on a flood of memories and emotions that spans an entire personal era.
How often do you find yourself driving in your car, walking around a department store, or sitting in the doctor’s office and suddenly you hear a song coming through the speakers that sparks a certain feeling or memory? Where were you and what were you doing when you first heard what has now become your favorite song or artist? What song always reminds you of your significant other, your children, or your parents? Which band did you love to “rock out” to when you were a kid driving around with your friends in your first car? If you’ve forgotten the answers to these questions then you can be certain that one day, when you least expect it, the music will remind you. When I hear Neil Diamond belt out “Coming to America,” I suddenly recall my mother taking me to my very first concert. Play me “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees, and I can see my dad jumping out of his chair in our living room and doing his best to rival Barry Gibb’s falsetto. Any song from Tori Amos’ first three albums will immediately transport me back to my high school and college years… for better or worse.
Someone with an apathetic view of music will question its relevancy in current everyday life and perhaps dismiss it as nothing more than a catalyst for nostalgia. But if you asked that person what their favorite movie was, and then told them to envision watching it without a soundtrack, I would be willing to wager that they would find it very difficult to do. What an interesting study that could be! Imagine that the Titanic is sinking, people are running around everywhere, fighting for their lives. Yet, there is no orchestra there to build the intensity. You hear the water, the loud clatter of rapidly moving feet, the cries of fear and sorrow; yet somehow it all seems hollow. Worse yet, Celine Dion is not going to reassure you through sweet serenade that Jack’s and Rose’s “Hearts Will Go On.”
Alright, perhaps I’m being a tiny bit facetious here, but you get my point. If the “Powers That Be” take it for granted that current and future generations are going to somehow figure out how to compose “on their own time,” then the quality of music as a whole will degrade and eventually become unrecognizable. As dramatic as it may sound, the soul of human culture as we know it will crumble and eventually be forgotten, leaving only a shadow of its former self.
As musicians, music educators and music advocates, it is our job to ensure that future generations also have an accompanist.
We’ll continue to bring you music and art advocacy information in the future. For information on how you can become an Arts Advocate, here are two sites to get started: www.artsactionfund.org and www.artsusa.org.