by Tracey S. Phillips
Instruments play a chord. You know this music, the feeling it evokes draws on your emotions. The rhythm moves you and you don’t think about it, your feet just tap the beat. You sway with the chord changes and let the notes fill you. After a few bars, a single instrument sings above the rest. It’s telling the story, a familiar story, but you stop everything and listen because you need to hear it again. You hum along with the quavering high note of a bowed violin, or the low and sultry oboe. Perhaps an acoustic guitar plays the melody you hear. Who is telling the story? A man’s gentle voice, or an angry female rock singer?
Music moves us. It tells stories that transcend language. We all have our soundtrack, the music we listen to daily. When you dig out those old vinyl records (I’m dating myself!) or those CDs, what do you reach for? The rock-and-roll bands you grew up with and danced to? Or something staid and meaningful.
Do you love the simplicity of folk music—a three-piece band with a duo of singers telling their universal story? Or do you gravitate to classical—forty string instruments in a chamber orchestra, or one hundred instruments in a full modern orchestra—to fulfill your musical fantasy.
In my early childhood, I remember hearing The Beatles and Jackson Five on the radio. My mom listened to Carol King and Broadway soundtracks like Jesus Christ Superstar. My dad loved the old show tunes sung by Judy Garland. Some of their music became my music. Like most new adults, I found my own voice. My mom couldn’t digest the hard-rock music that moves me today. But when I need solace and comfort, I listen to piano concertos of Rachmaninoff and romantic music of Ravel and Rimsky-Korsakov. Beethoven’s sonatas and Hayden’s symphonies take piority.
At age three, I began music lessons with my grandmother. Since she was an acclaimed piano teacher, it was an easy fit for the family. My parents dropped me off for a lesson, and then my brother and I stayed for the night. In the mornings, she listened to her concert program on the radio. Symphonies filled the house with music and sounds told stories. My youthful body wanted to move and dance. I needed to act it out, but my grandmother didn’t allow that. We were to sit still and use our ears. We were firmly told to sit down and listen.
The classical orchestra music took me to other times and exotic places. Long concertos and concert sonatas filled my head with entire movies. I saw characters in love, or people full of anger. A single note was the voice of one person longing for his place in the world or driven to find the answers.
I’m so grateful for my grandmother’s influence, for the exposure to different sounds and shapes, textures and moods. These days, my musical brain helps me write stories. I hear the voices of my characters first, like warm timbre of a cello or brassy quaver of a trumpet. Their voices accompany feelings. It helps me write the words that reveal my characters’ stories.
What music moves you the most? Please share in the discussion below.