Who doesn’t react to music? Who does not surrender at least a small part of himself to the beauty of form, harmony and expression in music? I don’t know if I would be comfortable with someone whose biological happiness hasn’t been touched by music.
Music is primary, innate to the soul. Music has the feeling of vitality instilled in us. Whether it’s listening to the rain patter on the rooftop or Mel Tormé performing at the Eastman Theatre, it’s in our nature to be driven by the unity and continuity of sound.
From a chemical phenomena perspective, the researchers say that music triggers a release of hormones in the brain responsible for our sense of well-being, “encouraging (the cells) to act in pleasant, excitable and euphoric ways”. No wonder music has such an impact on our emotional temperament – it’s how we are designed!
While some music will chase the devil from his perch, it’s good to know that we still make music to elevate the best part of our nature. In 20th century jargon, music alters our “horizontal grip” and has the ability to skew the disposition of the body, to change its “attitude” in one way or another. Music can lift us up on eagle’s wings or plunge us into hell and upside down. Music plays with our emotions. Music can tear the heart or reconcile the trouble of the heart. Music can affect our disposition as quickly and decisively as water mixed with a few drops of food coloring. Music colors our world, colors our mood. Music makes the difference.
Music can precipitate emotional events. Imagine listening to a story of genocide told by someone who was there – it’s uncomfortable for her; it’s uncomfortable for you. Disturbing images hold you in a kind of terrified rabbit paralysis. You are silent, incredulous. Your conscience is challenged. Full thoughts? You do not have any. Your limits of understanding have been tested.
Now imagine that same disconcerting testimony transmuted into song – in essence, bread made with leaven as opposed to bread made without. In song, words become rare. In song, the words take on a heightened sense of feeling, a general effervescence of feeling that words alone cannot communicate. Suddenly, the suffering under a Nazi regime attains a kind of spirituality.
In the ghettos and camps of Europe, the song was found to purge the stricken heart. The song became a moment of humanity in inhumane conditions. The song was a ray of light passing through where there was only darkness, a small piece of hope where hope had run its course. The song was your rainbow. The song has become your daily bread. The song was the cry of your heart: “We sweated, we labored to cultivate the land and watered it with tears.
Dedicated to recording and projecting the stories of Holocaust victims, The Songs from Testimonies project was created to amplify and commemorate the days of Jewish oppression – before, during and after World War II. Stephen Naron, director of the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimony, spoke on behalf of the organization: “Our musician-in-residence, Zisl Slepovich, took the songs and testimonies (of Holocaust survivors), conducted research into their origins, then arranged and recorded versions with his ensemble featuring Sashe Lurje. Their perseverance has indeed projected the lessons of the 20th century into the present. Of course, none of this will matter if no one is listening.
I remember a book by the Franco-German journalist Géraldine Schwarz, “Those who forget”, the story of her family in Nazi Europe. The book jacket included the words “a memoir, a story, a warning”. The book “shows clearly how willful amnesia can poison nations that have sworn never to forget…”
People willing to invest their time and talents in commemorating those whose lives have been cut short by bigotry and fanaticism and a general indifference to the sanctity of life should be music to our ears. Together they are the architects of a great edifice whose foundations represent centuries of inhumanity, whose doors are open to the world, whose soaring spiers are a warning that demands our attention, a demand that we never forget. .
Donald Melville lives in West Ontario County. He is a published author, electrical engineer, cabinet maker, Vietnam veteran, husband, father and grandfather. He taught Christian education for 15 years and is still active in Bible study. It brings topics of interest to the Time occasionally and awaits your comments at [email protected]