I spent my junior and senior high school years listening to WLS am radio out of Chicago. They brought the Top 40 to the unhip Midwest. I woke in the morning and went to sleep at night listening to The Beatles, The Supremes, and The Beach Boys, along with other great bands of my youth, via my little clock radio. In the living room, my parents had a huge boxy credenza with a tv, a hi-fi turntable and storage for their records, today’s vinyl. Sadly, we weren’t an overly musical household and other than some Christmas music at the holidays, I don’t remember it getting much use.
Happily, some years later, Mr. Smith brought music into my life in spades. Not only did he come with a piano and his musical sensibility, he passed it on to all children. While our lyrical medium has changed over the years, going from vinyl to the “cloud”, there has always been music. We’ve attended rock concerts, classical concerts, jazz concerts, operas and musicals. And now our sons all have a deep connection with music. I credit this to their being raised in a home filled with song and orchestration. Many a Sunday morning began with Bach and pancakes. Three young boys stumbling into the kitchen when they heard the familiar strains of the masters, knowing that breakfast was on its way. Our youngest, Adam, shared “I tell people that I was lucky to grow up in a musical environment that was stylistically diverse. We had jazz, pop, and classical. At age six, Emmet knew the Four Seasons as Vivaldi (and not Frankie Valli), while I knew that Van Morrison and Paul Simon were things that I enjoyed and that connected us.”
My uber-musical progeny have also introduced new music into my life through countless music lessons, piano recitals, and marching band competitions. I can’t hear anything from Whiskeytown’s Pneumoniaor Norah Jones’s Come Away With Me albums without memories of sitting on the back porch on warm evenings when the boys were home on summer breaks from college, listening to music and sharing our days. I will forever remember one Saturday when Adam was a senior in high school. Mr. Smith, Adam and I headed south to Ball State University, picked up Emmet, and drove to Indiana State to visit Elliot. Later, with the three boys in the back seat, the radio was on, (I wish I could remember the song) when suddenly they all yelled “You can’t have a key change there!” My fabulous educated musicians had all heard it, but not me!
The positive effect of music on children is well documented. Improving brain power, developing social skills, building confidence, inspiring creativity, and teaching patience and discipline are but a few of the benefits linked to exposure to music. One cannot watch a high school marching band practice their show for the season over and over and over and ever doubt those kids are learning patience and discipline. Our son, Elliot, is now director of bands at a high school. It warms the cockles of my heart to hear him speak with tremendous excitement and passion about teaching his kids. I asked Elliot his thoughts on the importance of music in children’s lives. He shared that he thinks one of the most important aspects of music in schools is that it gives the child the ability to actually “feel” when most of the emphasis in school is on learning facts and figures. “When children don’t have the opportunity to feel and express their feelings in a positive way, that is where a lot of problems rise up. Anxiety, anger, etc.” He fears that there is so much importance placed on test scores and the right colleges, that recognizing the importance of creativity sometimes goes by the wayside.
I can’t identify a key change to save my life. I can’t have a scholarly discussion with you on rhythm and tone. But I know there is music that can soothe me. There is music that can boost my mood and get me ready to take on the day. Perhaps best of all, there is music that can take my hand and lead me back in time to that porch and those summer nights with my sons or to a moment when I was 18 and dancing myself silly on a Saturday night.
Music is an amazing treasure that can be a bridge across generations. It can ease suffering. It can create communication where none existed. I know it when I see Mr. Smith talk music with his sons. I know it when I share Abba with my grandsons. And I know it when I see baby Eleanor and her grandpa grooving to The Gummy Bear Song. Music is the food for our soul.
C’est la vie.