11 January 2009

The Music of Winter

Driving south on Pacific Coast Highway today, on my way to brunch with friends at a wonderful french bistro in San Clemente, I heard a Beatles song on the radio that always makes me smile. I felt my shoulders sway and my head bob, an involuntary, joyful response to sweet sounds. A young man in an old VW stopped at a red light in the lane next to me was bobbing his head in a rhythm that must have mirrored a hip hop beat and although he didn't notice me, immersed as he was in the sound and in the momentary stillness imposed on us at that moment, I felt we were one.
Ah, music. In the throes of economic hysteria, personal heartache and natural disasters, perhaps only the music can lighten the heart. I am rethinking my concern about young people everywhere plugged into tiny pods. I find myself keeping NPR playing softly on my office computer more often than not [usually wfuv from Fordham University, still the best radio station I know] and my 25-year old assistant/office mate is all the happier for it. Now she brings me a hot new CD she thinks I might like and sometimes we sample together tracks from an emerging artist's My Space page. I sometimes wonder if church goers relish their Sunday mornings not only for the spiritual solace and thought provoking [if they're good] sermons, but for the chance to sing.
When do we have the chance to sing? I still hum or sing along to my music at home, sometimes loudly, as one of the blessings of living alone is that no one is disturbed. The sound of some voices soothe completely, better than any camomille tea or sedating herb. Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro, Amos Oz. Years ago, I listened to Norah Jones's first album every night as I slipped into sleep, and after a while, I was out cold by the 4th track, lulled literary into sleep, and discovered that I'd never heard the last songs on the album. Studies have been done on music as a calming influence on everything from tigers to teenagers.
Is it no wonder that Cubans, in the midst of a lifetime of repression, cling to their music, and that music speaks to us all. The music and dance of African tribes sustain their culture. Adolescents of every ethnicity whose music defiines their lives and their memories. Don't we all stop at the first notes of a song that rekindles the fondest, the saddest, the dearest of remembrances. Music perhaps more the trigger of nostalgia than scent.
My days are sometimes long and feel nearly meaningless. I know that I have more than most and am grateful every day, every moment I can connect to that feeling, that I am blessed. Too blessed to be stressed, that's the new mantra. But there are days, like today, that I feel as if all I have done is move from keyboard to phone to files, merely adjusting information, slotting it into its proper place, accounting for plans rather than making them. And so the music on the radio, the music on my stereo [yes I still call it that] the music in my heart is the soothing balm. As if singing to me that the day is only the sum of the moments and the music the sum of the days and, en sum, it is sweet. Especially in winter, when the heart might otherwise grow cold.