The Music in You

October 28, 2007

A friend and I were out listening to the Don Stiernberg Trio.  Jazz, Swing, Bluegrass, Folk, Reggae – they played it all.  And more.  We were sitting in the back, absolutely blown away by their talent.  These three guys on mandolin, upright bass and guitar.  Whenever I hear good music like that, I have to move, have to do something physical with the energy of the music.  Tap my foot, jig my legs, sway, drum out the beat.  Then came a Django Reinhardt tune.  My friend turned to me and said “Do you dance?”  That was it.  We were the only two up, over on the side by the water glasses, dancing to the tune.  He said it best – “There are some tunes you just have to dance to.”  So, here was another person like me, who can’t just sit still and must go where the music takes him.

A few days earlier, I had been giving a lecture on the impact of deafness to parents of deaf children (part of my day job).  Evelyn Glennie, the deaf percussionist from Scotland, came up in the discussion.  That night, on a whim, I Googled her name and found some videos of her work on YouTube.  There she was, giving a lecture on “How to Listen to Music With Your Whole Body.”  Here’s this phenomenal talent who has perfected the art of listening in the way that I have felt was right since I was small, but could never have articulated so beautifully.  Music should be listened to with the body, the whole body, and not just the ears.  Music is meant to felt!

Then, a couple of days ago, a professor of psychology and music, Daniel Levitin, wrote an Op Ed piece for the New York Times.  “Dancing In The Seats” is about how our brains are wired to feel the music, and that sitting passively while listening to music is actually not the ‘norm’ for humans.  In many cultures, music and movement are inextricably tied. We are meant to have a physical reaction to music – we’re meant to move!

So here’s this message repeated to me in three very different ways, all in the span of a week.  The relationship of music and the physical.  

I spent probably a third of my life involved with dance.  Lessons, recitals, dance troupes, musical theatre.  To look at me now you wouldn’t know that, but it still influences my reaction to music.  Dancers get it instinctively.  Of course music is meant to be felt, to be listened to with the whole body, that we’re meant to move.  Of course.  And they look at the rest of us wondering why this is such a difficult concept to grasp.

But now, I’m not a dancer.  I’m a folk singer.  I stand up in front of people, alone with my guitar, and sing my songs.  And people sit quietly, listening politely, often enthusiastically, laughing, singing, sometimes a tear in their eyes.  And then I’ll see someone moving, swaying along, and I know I’ve spotted a kindred soul.  

So my friend and I, Evelyn Glennie, dancers, and all the other folks I know who can’t sit still, aren’t odd, at least about this.  We let ourselves get transported by the music.  Carried away, literally, to a place of physicality, of movement, expressing outwardly all that the music evokes inwardly.  And it’s what humans are meant to do.

But to those of you who sit quietly in your seats – I see you.  You may not get up and dance, you may not jig around until you’re almost falling out of your chair, but I see you.  Your eyes close.  Your head moves slightly with the beat.  A finger taps lightly on the table in front of you.  You give your partner a squeeze.  I see the music in you.  You smile or frown with what you’re hearing.  It’s affecting you.  And that’s the goal of the music.  Of all music.  To transport you to that place of feeling, instead of just listening.

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