The Power and Pleasure of Music

Three Recent Examples Bring the Lessons Home Delightfully

What Is it About Music?

Music seems to almost magic in its power to motivate, activate, sooth, and inspire the human creature (and other creatures, too; more on that later). You get this observation from someone who does not play any instrument nor knows how to read music. Well, I did have a short musical interlude. I had an impromptu kazoo band that showed up uninvited at Pentagon ceremonies when I worked there. And I once attended a dulcimer workshop. At the end of that first session, the instructor and I agreed my future was in the audience.

But I know what I like in music, and I love seeing how it affects people.

Three Recent Opportunities to See This in Action

I have had three very different musical experiences just in the last couple of weeks, each of which brought home that power and joy. They could not be more different experiences (or types of music), yet each had powerful effects on all who were involved. Allow me to share with you a bit.

Lessons from Banjo Camp

Every year for the last few years Bela Fleck (of Bela Fleck & the Fleck Tones fame) hosts a banjo camp at the Brevard Music Center in Western North Carolina. If you are like me, you may not know much about the banjo beyond seeing it on some country western tv show or hearing Steve Martin play sometime (Martin, by the way, is a dead serious musician and quite a good player).

Once I moved into the Blue Ridge Mountains, I learned about the versatility of the banjo, its importance in different forms of music, and that Bella Fleck is generally considered the godfather of the modern banjo. He has shaped how that instrument is played around the world.

This banjo camp assembles world-class musicians as teachers and selects 100 would-be great banjo players (out of hundreds of applications) for an intense week of learning and sharing. At the end of the week there is a public concert wherein everyone in the camp gets a chance to play for a live audience.  This set up reminded me of The Swannanoa Gathering, another world-class music and learning experience that goes on for several weeks every year.

How much fun are they all having? Check out a few pictures: If you ever have the chance to attend a concert for either of these camps, go. They are pure magic.

Lessons from Halleluiah

Some years ago, a little known artist (songwriter, singer) by the name of Leonard Cohen wrote a song with the title Halleluiah. Most of you probably know the song, or at least recognize it when you hear. It became something of an international cult of a song over the years, analyzed to infinity and covered by just about everyone. I can think of no other song with such reach and effect.

I remember the first time I heard it; I was so struck by it that I immediately looked it up. There are ferocious arguments around the world as to who performs it best. I have a half dozen variations on my playlist and play them often. If you have not heard the song, give it a go:

Someone finally made a fine documentary about the song and the artist. Halleluiah: Leonard Chone, A Journey, A Song is making the rounds now, mostly in small art theaters, around the country. We saw it and gave it 5 stars. Should you have an opportunity to catch it, do so. If you know the song, you get it. If the song is new to you, go anyway; you will come out better for the time invested. Here is a link to the trailer and the current national play dates/places: . Hopefully, it will make cable and/or streaming in due course. See it.

 Lessons from The Moog Museum

If you are of a certain age, you will remember when the Moog music synthesizer came into being. It was the beginning of a revolution in music that still continues today. The inventor, as it turns out, lived in and around my little city of Asheville NC. There still is a Moog store and manufacturing center here and a really neat little, hands on museum. Worth a stop if you are in our neighborhood.

What was so neat about the Moog revolution was its blending of art and science. Robert Moog saw no real separation between these two disciplines – he thought they complemented each other nicely. And he proved that his conclusion was correct. Today, there are all sorts of synthesizers and modified instruments. All because someone thought the potential deserved exploration and development.  If only more of us were so open- minded.

The Power and Pleasure are Not Limited Just to our species

Music really does transcend all sorts of boundaries.

   — Remember the Voyager spacecraft? When deciding what evidence of our species to send out to the universe, music was a major component.

   –During the enforced period of unusual quite that the pandemic brought about, birds in the San Francisco area (and likely in other places) changed the pitch and volume of their songs and created new combinations of notes.

   — For our closing today, I offer you four delightful short clips of animals and humans sharing the joy of music. You gotta love it.

                Swaying Elephant

                Dancing Birds –

                Entranced Cows

               Noah’s Ark – Everyone is in on this one.

          Bill Clontz

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11 replies to The Power and Pleasure of Music

  1. Thanks Bill. Loved your comments today. When people ask me if I play an instrument I say with a straight face that I play the stereo very well. I have mastered the on/off with as well as the volume knob.

    Unfortunately, I came from a family whose step-mother told us from the start that no one in the family was musical and she was not wasting money on music lessons. The things we do to children.

    I too love the song Halleluiah. One of the best versions is by Rufus Wainwright (son of Loudon Wainwright). You can find a great video of his playing it on You Tube.


    • Glad you enjoyed it, Tom. And thanks very much for the Rufus version info – I had missed it. You are right – nicely done.

      • I am excited to be teaching music appreciation this month at our local Library. I am a piano teacher and love many kinds of music. My favorite version of Hallelulyah is by the Pentatonix.

        • Yep, one of my favorites, too – and a fine video with it.

  2. At 60, I learned to play the Celtic harp. Today my harp circle, The Mountain Folkharpers play at the NC Arboretum and other local venues. As individuals, they and I do what we call, “Random acts of harping” whenever and wherever we choose to play. The harp soothes the soul of both player and listener. It’s a harp. They love it, wrong notes and all.

  3. Your comments made me smile. I’ll add to the Halleluiah comments that k.d. lang’s version is pretty fine, but the most interesting use of the song is with The West Wing episode Posse Comitatus. I don’t know whose version that is, but it enhances the episode tremendously.

  4. Loved the blog. Bela Fleck is part of the program AVL Symphony Oct 22.
    Leonard Cohen is unequivocally our favorite musician- artist-poet. One of the best renditions is KD LANG on U-Tube. Amazing.

    • Yeah, I like the KD Lang rendition a lot,too – have it on my phone, Play it often. No small thing that they chose her to sing it at his memorial service.

  5. There is a concert given by friends of Leonard Cohen. All songs written by Leonard. Rufus Wainwright and Sonny Bono were superb. It is “I’m Your Man”. I think Netflix, but May be wrong.
    I agree with an earlier post re KD Lang.

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