Music Speaks

I was late. I grabbed my keys and headed into rush hour traffic. Fingers drumming impatiently on the steering wheel, I waited for the endless line of cars to move.

Sitting in the snail-paced traffic, thoughts of the day swirled in my head making me frown. Report cards due, students asking how they can improve their grades. Students asking if their assignments are for marks. Students asking things in general! Finally, the cars were moving, and I made it to the parking lot.

I chatted to acquaintances as I walked in, brain still humming from the day’s activities and mentally planning out the next day, the next week, the next month. I settled into my seat and began to concentrate on the music ahead.

Suddenly, quiet. Something I hadn’t heard all day – nothing. With raised eyebrows and intense focus the performers signaled their readiness. They drew in a deep breath in perfect synchronization, then began.

Deadlines, reports, assignments, and grades melted away as the first notes filled the auditorium. It was a spring pastoral scene, complete with sheep lazily roaming the hillside and sunlight filtering through newly budded leaves. The full sound of Haydn seemed to be a reassurance that life holds a richness to be treasured despite the fact that we can be consumed by its busyness.

Perfectly synched, the musicians moved as one. Then they called and answered to one another like birds singing in the forest. They weren’t just musicians – but artists, or storytellers, creating a landscape of images and ideas that were perhaps different for each listener, but no less treasured or significant.

In that moment it struck me that music speaks to us in many ways. It may offer a message of hope, it may awaken a passion or inspire a call to action, or it may simply tell a story that is sad or joyful, bitter or triumphant. These sensitive musicians told many tales through the playful and pastoral, but at times mysterious Haydn, the unsettling, but poignant “Awakening” by Billy Childs, and the serene and exciting Beethoven. This music called me back into the moment.

I was reminded that when I teach my students poetry, we always start with a discussion about why art matters. Is it something that is just an extra in life? A hobby to be enjoyed, perhaps? Actor Ethan Hawke describes how art is something we enjoy as a distraction or amusement until a momentous event happens in our lives - we lose a loved one, or we fall in love. When this happens, art becomes sustenance for us. This concert highlighted the myriad of emotions and experiences we live through as humans in a moment, or a lifetime, reminding me how powerful these simple joys of living can be. It reminded me that sometimes we need music to tell us what is truly important in life.

That night, music had an important message for me. I just had to listen.

Emma Sweeney