I am a piano teacher by day and a writer by every-other-chance-I-can-get, so today I’d like to combine the two and write about music. Specifically, about the powerful impact music can have.
Everyone has experienced it. You hear a tune and it transports you to another place, or brings you back to your childhood, or reminds you of a special person in your life, or instils a strong emotion. Sometimes it’s not possible to describe the effect it has. That is the magic of music – it is there when language is not enough. (And here I am trying to put it into words anyway. A writer’s got to try.)
There is no limitation to genre, or era, or artist, and it can encompass the broadest range of feeling, from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. What might have no great significance to one listener might bring an enormous weight of memory to another. A simple melody can pack a potent punch.
The following are just a few examples of ways that music has affected me. (Clicking on the titles will bring you to recordings of the tunes on YouTube.)
This is the song that inspired me to write this blog post. It was the winner of the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest and, being a fan, I was familiar with it at the time. But it wasn’t until my thirtieth birthday four years later that it became a song with a deeper emotional connection for me. My husband played it at full volume on the morning of my birthday and whenever I hear it now I am transported back to that day, dancing around the kitchen and belting the song out at the top of my lungs. I had quite an upbeat attitude about turning thirty so for me ‘Euphoria’ carries with it a sense of optimism and potential. When I’m feeling down, it never fails to pick me up and put me back on my feet again.
I was fortunate to be a member of the Tipperary Millennium Orchestra for two years when I was in school. Not everyone gets the opportunity to play in an orchestra but those of you who have will know what a thrilling experience it is, and I think it cannot be topped by anything but ‘Finlandia’. It is a piece that is at times fierce, haunting, frantic and triumphant, and to blast it out along with sixty other people in a performance venue is beyond amazing. When I hear it, I long to be a part of it again – dead right arm notwithstanding (the tremolo for 2nd Violins is never-ending…).
I learned this prelude when I was fifteen and hammered it out so much at the time that I can still play it by muscle memory fifteen years later. This is my go-to piece of music when I’m angry. If I’m having a bad day and need to get it out of my system, I will sit at the piano and bang out all those big chords. The benefit of this is the energy I expend by playing it, and the catharsis that it brings. Thank you, Sergei, for being my therapist.
This song makes it onto the list, not because of any therapeutic emotions it evokes, but because when I hear it I find myself whisked back to Saturday, 12th June 2004, Phoenix Park, Dublin. This was the date and location of my first ever gig. Oh, did Jet play at it, I hear you ask? No, it was headlined by Red Hot Chili Peppers who did, to be fair, put on a great show. However, my overriding musical recollection from that day is not a Chili Peppers song.
Five acts in total took to the stage and in between performances the promoters took the opportunity to air ads across the big screens. Vodafone had an ad out at the time featuring Jet’s song ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl?’. It was played so frequently throughout the day that every time it came on the thousands-strong crowd swelled into a chorus of ‘So one, two, three, take my hand and come with me, because you look so fine that I really wanna make you mine.‘ It was riotous and exhilarating and still so memorable, twelve years later.
This one is not only tied up in my own memories, but in my mother’s as well. I love to hear her tell the story of the first time she saw The Sound of Music. She was ten years old, it was her first trip to the cinema and they had to travel twenty miles to get there. The awe of that extraordinary movie experience continued to resonate with her as she sat in the back of the car on the long trip home afterwards, absolutely breath-taken by the event. My grandfather went out and bought the record the following day and she and her siblings played it to death.
I adore this story so, so much and I’ve heard it often enough that I can’t listen to the songs or watch the film without recalling my mother’s attachment to it – in particular, that unforgettable scene where Maria and the Captain dance to the Ländler and fall in love right before our eyes. It is beautiful and magical and intrinsically intertwined with the joy and wonder of a ten-year-old girl seeing it for the first time.
Those are some of the pieces of music that stir me but there are many more. It is an incredibly powerful medium that can tap into the deepest memories and stimulate the most profound emotions.
And it is universal. So what music affects you? Do you have a song that transports you to a particular time or place? Reminds you of a sad or happy occasion? Elicits an intense feeling? I would love to hear from you – do leave a comment if you have a musical experience you would like to share!