Music Hath Charms to Soothe the Savage Beast


Music Is Surely One of The Most Unique and Ubiquitous Inventions of Our Species

The title of this blog post comes from the English playwright William Congreve. It is from Act I of his play “The Mourning Bride,” published in 1697. What was true then is no less true today. Indeed, it has always been so.

Different Music, Same Responses

I experienced a couple of really interesting reminders of this in recent weeks. A couple of weeks ago, I invested a week with the Chautauqua Institute in upstate New York. Part of the program there is a large dose of music. The music came in many forms. It centered around performances of their excellent symphony orchestra and youth orchestra.

While most of the music was classical, there were lots of outriders. Organ concerts featuring a lot of improvisation. Various combinations of instruments playing jazz or swing era music. Movie scores were also represented. All resonated with the thousands gathered to listen and to be transported.

Now fast forward a few days. I found myself at one of my favorite events, a concert at the Swannanoa Gathering. This is, in my view, the world series of mountain music and related genre. Until recently, I knew almost nothing about mountain music. I certainly had never heard of the Gathering. I am now a deep fan of both.

The Gathering is a Summer-long master camp for musicians and singers across a wide range of music. It is anchored in Appalachian and folk music, although that is far too brief a description of its origins. If you also have not heard about the Gathering, take a moment to read about it: It is remarkable. They hold a few public concerts throughout the Summer. You should go.

Imagine an auditorium with thousands of feet, all tapping in unison. Cheers and whoops arise from all over the audience. Musicians not scheduled to perform on a given sequence get possessed by the moment and join in on stage.

The audience has a wonderful time, of course. But this is the only venue I know of where the performers always seem to have even more fun than the audience. Tradition, passing it forward and reverence for the work runs high here. Story telling is a companion art. Joy suffuses everywhere.

These two venues – Chautauqua and Swannanoa – are very different. The music between them could not be more different. Yet both work the same magic on the human condition. Both reminded me I should take more time to listen to music – really listen. If there are any Gods out there, music must be one of their gifts.

We know that music is more than entertainment, more even than art. Studies show that children exposed regularly to music do better at math and in other life skills. We sent a golden record deep into space to tell whomever may find it about us. Much of that record was the richness of our planet’s music.

What are YOU Listening To?

I have zero musical skills. I play no instrument, except the occasional kazoo. I absolutelycannot sing, nor can I dance. I do not read music, although this is not a lack of talent, only my  laziness in not learning how to read it.

Yet, I enjoy music enormously, and I bet many of you do as well. Writing this post caused me to look at my own play list that I have with me pretty much all the time. Looking at its variety reminds me of the pleasure diverse music gives me.

I have a large collection of classical works. For me, no one comes close to Beethoven, but I have lots of his compatriots as well. I have some New Age music I like, Gregorian Chants, and much from the 1940s. This latter includes a lot of Big Band music and vocals from the likes of Ertha Kitt and Etta James.

I have everything that Janis Joplin ever sang. Janis is my generation’s Edith Piaf or Billie Holiday – and I have both of them, too. I have a lot of classic rock, 1950s-1970s mostly. Jazz is pretty well represented. Someday I may tire of Led Zeppelin or Leonard Cohen, but not today.

Lend Me Your Ears

And on it goes. How long has it been since you listened to some music, not as background but as the focus of your time? How about doing that in the next day or so? And while you are at it, give a listen to something new.

There is a direct connection between your ears, your mind, and your heart. Give them some exercise together. Enjoy. And let me know what you listened to, will you?

    Bill Clontz

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3 replies to Music Hath Charms to Soothe the Savage Beast

  1. You didn’t mention Dixieland in your comments so here’s a link to a group of street musicians in New Orleans. These guys are good enough to also travel the world and play, which they do……just returning from France. If you like the group they have lots of stuff up on Youtube……going back 10 years or so. Tuba Skinny

    While I glad you enjoy listening I’m sorry you don’t make music! That’s the real joy. I’ve been fortunate enough to sing in a number of groups until a few years ago. I also play a Bass Clarinet in a couple of community bands and a clarinet choir. The choir will be at Deerfield in October and we’re looking forward to performing here.

    Music feeds my soul and there’s always some playing wherever I am.

    Thanks, Bill. Good subject

    • Thanks, Jim. I envy your talent. Must be an amazing feeling to create those sounds, vocally or instrumentally.

  2. Good post, Bill. I also love music, almost all of it. My playlist includes New Age, Smooth Jazz, classical, old-time. I encourage dancing. It is the next best thing to being able to make music. Anytime one has a chance to move to music is a good time. It can range from military parade to Steven Jones Dance Journies. My personal favorite is square dancing which requires moving and thinking at the same time, while cooperating with other dancers.
    Deerfield is a good place to be for one wanting to learn to dance: line, ballroom, even tap.

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