Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Fifth Element

It was a linen shirt, long sleeved and whisper pink, and I stood in Macy’s considering it on a quiet Thursday afternoon. Gradually, almost unconsciously, I became aware that I was swaying ever so slightly to music. Then I heard, pouring from the store speakers like rivulets of honey, the familiar strains of Aretha Franklin’s, Baby I Love You. I looked around me and observed the delightful spell being cast from this marvelous sound. A flawlessly coiffed elderly lady in a St. John suit was strolling through the handbag department, her steps in perfect time with the song. The young woman behind the counter was casually bobbing her head back and forth to the rhythm, while a delivery man entered from outside and immediately fell into leisurely step with the seductive beat as he made his way up the store aisle. It was incredibly entertaining to watch, as everyone in sight was reacting to this infectious old classic without even being aware of it. Such is the power of music.

Music is as much a part of our lives as breathing, even though we hardly know it most of the time. Every one of us has a personal soundtrack that has accompanied our days; a musical fingerprint of our lives, unique and specific. Like magic, whenever I hear Dionne Warwick’s,
Do You Know The Way To San Jose, I am once again in the back seat of my family’s leaf green Pontiac during a sunny morning on my way to school. Joni Mitchell’s, Carey, always sends me to the beach and I am a little girl desirous of my very own Mary Quant lipstick every time I hear Donovan sing Jennifer, Juniper. Coldplay’s, Speed of Sound, whisks me off to Regent Street in London. Astrid Gilberto means summer and, of course, Christmas just doesn’t exist without Perry Como or Nat King Cole. For me, James Taylor is high school afternoons and Leonard Cohen’s, Sisters of Mercy, is newlywed bliss. And incidentally, if you ever wished to know what a childhood summer felt like in the southern United States, then pour a glass of sweet tea and listen to the soundtrack of To Kill A Mockingbird by Elmer Bernstein. You couldn’t get closer with a time machine.

There can be no denying the remarkable ability of music to communicate more profoundly, and often with more clarity, than words could ever hope to do. Music seems divinely capable of reaching that inarticulate part of the soul where only the deepest feelings and most heartfelt memories are found. The unscaleable majesty in Saint-Saens
Organ Symphony #3, or the near visible beauty of Debussy’s Clair de Lune. The visceral grief in Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings or the sheer happiness of The Beatles I Wanna Hold Your Hand.
It is almost as if God himself intended music to be the fifth element, -surely as basic as air or water, fire or earth- for after all, did the angels not announce the birth of Christ with song?