Colin Harrington: The healing power of music


WINDSOR — I attended Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble concert at Tanglewood on Sunday, August 7, as I have for many years. From the very start, the incredible sound of so much world music coming together electrified the audience and made me feel very whole again in an election period that seems to be polarizing too many Americans from living together in peace.

I have been saying for a long time now that music is the solution to everything. It seems to me that music has the power to make all things right and Yo Yo Ma has demonstrated that through the formation of the Silk Road Ensemble 18 years ago. They are going strong and always adding new composers, musicians, and programs to their repertoire because that is what it is all about.

The experience of inclusive diversity is so joyful and enriching it is only natural that the sound will carry us along in a kind of boisterous enthusiasm necessary to resolve the problems of the world. The magic happens because the music affects us all as individuals first and then we can encounter, interact, and blend in peaceful harmonies with the world.

The musical theme of the concert this year was "going home." Mr. Ma writes in his introduction in the program for the concert that, "There are many different kinds of home — physical, childhood, those that we build in our memories, and many others." He goes on to say that the creative home of The Silk Road Ensemble brings together musical languages and encounters with "friends and strangers," and an opportunity to discover wholly unexpected connections.

For me, these connections are where the healing happens in music. Music cuts right through all the confusion and inadequacies of language and the mental ruts where we can spend way too much time. When the Silk Road Ensemble came together for Antonin Dvorak's music arranged as a piece called, "Going Home," and when they went right into Billy Strayhorn's "Take the 'A' Train," every one of the thousands of people who attended that concert, either on the lawn (it was a perfectly beautiful evening!), or in the shed, knows what I am talking about.

Music as a gift

The music made sense of everything, it not only made us all feel resolved, happy, and connected, it has stayed in our hearts and we have carried it out into the world. I am still humming the melodies from all the pieces in the concert and you know what? I know there are many, many more who attended that concert out there in the world, who are doing the same thing. We all got the message and it was good. By whistling the tunes we are passing it on to anyone around us. It is the nature of music to act as a gift.

The period of youth may be the most confusing, stressful, and anxious time in our lives. Children and young adults are called on to do so much in such a short time. It's not easy to make sense of this world, never mind one's own life. Maybe that's why young people are always listening to music on their i-phones (used to be i-pods!) and the radio (thank goodness for that old-fashioned technology that still gets used by the young).

When I was teaching I always pushed students to listen to music and I frequently made them listen to all kinds of music they might not otherwise try out because it is very important to keep our options open and what better way to learn that message than by listening to music? Music is the language of the heart.

I am always glad to hear music out in the world, whether it's blaring from a car, the driver singing at the top of his or her range, in an office, on the street in the city, in church or temple, sometimes just in the sounds of the world, sometimes soft and gentle, other times in cacophonous charm. The point is, music is everywhere, if we listen, and it carries a solution.

As adults, I have sometimes wondered if people let that music we were so obsessed with in our youth go, too busy to sit down and really listen. I suggest you take a little time this week to listen to some music. See if it doesn't help you with it all or add to your sense of pleasure. The beauty is, I know it will.

Listening to all kinds of music we find what we like best at any given time in our lives and that's where we feel most at home. The beauty of music is it is full of the answers and new music opens us up to new meaning and language as we open our minds.

Colin Harrington is an educator, poet, museum guide, events manager at The Bookstore in Lenox and an occasional Eagle contributor.


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