It broke my heart yesterday when I read in the NY Times that one of the teachers who survived the Newtown horror shepherded her kindergarden students into the closet where, to keep them calm, she had them quietly sing Christmas carols. These children were not harmed, since the gunman died before he could get to their class, but it struck me how much we turn to music when we are in pain.
Every religion has some kind of music intertwined into its rituals. The larger and wealthier Christian church often have “music ministers” who can be very well trained and paid, and who lead the congregation in the services. Even in the smaller, poorer churches where the “music person”is often drawn from the congregation and might do music for free, they try not to leave music out completely.
I am not as familiar with other traditions, but I have enough general knowledge to know that singing, chanting, intoning and reciting are frequently part of services and that there are times when everyone sings and times when only the “special” person or leader gets to sing. In such circumstances, when people join their voices together in simultaneous sounds, they can discover a feeling of unity that is unlike any other. In experiencing such moments of coming together with others in a peaceful and beautiful activity, there is the opportunity to draw comfort from that closeness, which often lasts long after the singing is over.
The power of music is still largely untapped in our society. The only way any individual can sing is to seek out singing. You can sing at home, maybe in the shower. You can sing in the car. You can sing in a house of worship. You can sing in a choir in your community. You can perhaps sing with your family, if they also sing. Most people don’t sing any other time or place. Some people go through their entire life not singing one single note. In fact, I once gave a lesson to a student who “didn’t know music” meaning that she did not know music in any way at all. She grew up in a household where there was never any music at any time at all. She said her family didn’t like it. I found that astounding. It was like being told that someone didn’t like dessert. In our society, perhaps unusual, but certainly possible.
What singers have that most other people don’t have is an on-going relationship to singing and to song. The songs make us sing and singing needs us to live the song as a pathway. The music comes from within, goes out, lifts us up, filling us with emotion, and then repeats. A very nice positive re-enforcing cycle.
At this time of the year when we can hear carolers strolling and music fills the stores with the same familiar songs, take the time to really hear them. Let yourself hum along. Let the music transport you to a good, warm happy place. Let it fill your heart, even if you don’t honor Christmas as part of your tradition. Let the sounds of the songs, in all their many varieties, carry you off. As you do, know that many others are doing the same thing. Music has the power to heal us as individuals and in its largest sense, it has the power to heal our world. Those of us who know that music is magic understand the healing power of song is a gift available to all who seek it. It’s free, it’s always there and it works best when you give it away.