Last week, I sat on a committee assigned to interview someone for a choir director position. There are two things you should know about me and choir:
1) I don’t sing. Unless I’m alone or trying to get my kids’ attention;
2) “choir” – and “committee” – mean interacting with others in close quarters. I’m a writer. I hang out on the fringe. I observe, take notes, sweat at the thought of “small talk.”
Still, for unknown reasons, I was asked to join the group of interviewers, and, even more surprising, I said yes. Sometimes it’s good to get out of your comfort zone.
The person we interviewed was as passionate about choir and music as I am about writing, a testament that creatives aren’t that different, no matter the medium. He spoke of music in ways I understood. I sat there, smiling, nodding, almost imagining myself in the ranks, singing alto, belting a tune or two.
I definitely took notes on how he viewed music.
Music as invitation.
Music keeps us engaged, he said. Once the notes fill our ears and graze our hearts, there is an irresistible pull to lose ourselves in song. Music begs us to participate.
Much like a good story that hints at questions and prods us to seek answers. A good story, with vivid images and inescapable narrative, stimulates our brain with “sights, sounds, tastes, and movement of real life,” as Lisa Cron says in her upcoming book, Wired for Story:
That’s what accounts for the…visceral reactions we feel when we can’t stop reading, even though it’s past midnight and we have to be up at dawn.
When was the last time you stayed up late to finish a book? Or to listen to one more song on your favorite album? And, what was it about that story or song that held you?
Music as relationship.
Music is the glue that connects us, a medium that brings us in communion with each other with notes and harmonies that surround us and instill one message or another.
Writing, too, brings us together through experiences shared in a memoir or in the empathy and emotion evoked in poetry or fiction. A small detail or a passage strikes a chord with us; we immerse ourselves in the story, because we relate.
Music as spiritual experience.
The melody in a song has, at times, taken hold of my heart and squeezed it a little bit, just enough, then released it so I may catch my breath again. Other times, it the words intermingled that strike me and stay with me.
Certain stories have done the same for me, shifted my perspective on the world. I’ve read a particular Stanley Kunitz poem over and over, because, each time, it soothes a pressing ache.
While the person we interviewed spoke of music and its effect within the walls of a church, so much of what he said translates into a broader spectrum of understanding, in music and in writing. In this interview on The Rumpus, Nikki Lane hints at what must have been a spiritual experience for her, with music, and she wasn’t anywhere near a steeple (I’m guessing):
I remember the day I first heard Neil Young; I remember what everything looked like, what tennis shoes I was wearing. It just blew my mind.
You know it’s good, the story or the song, when, years later, you still remember the shoes your wore.
* Photo credits: imelenchon on morguefile.com and mescon on flickr.com
Pass it on.