Music Takes Me Back

Is there anything more powerful than music to take you back to a moment, or a place, or a person, or a feeling? Yes, there are certain smells that may transport us through time, and flicking through an old photo album can trigger memories, but, for me, there is nothing quite like the sudden jolt, stop-me-in-my-tracks, magic moment that a song can bring. Beautifully described by Roberta Flack in her slow number, ‘Killing me Softly’ – in it she gives a perceptive account of how we can be moved by the music and lyrics of a song.

“Strumming my pain with his fingers

Singing my life with his words

Killing me softly with his song

Killing me softly with his song

Telling my whole life with his words

Killing me softly with his song.”

‘Killing me softly’: a perfect description of the bittersweet emotions that a song can unfurl in one’s heart. Not the same emotions are unleashed for us all, though; what’s an obviously sad song for one, might transport another person to a time of joy. I was in the shop of the National Gallery in Edinburgh a few weeks back, quietly browsing with a friend, when an old, scratchy version of ‘Paper Moon’ began to play. For some reason that I couldn’t quite pinpoint, it was making me feel impossibly sad. At the very moment I was thinking this, K., whom I was with, remarked on the music and how uplifting she found it. “Say, it’s only a paper moon / Sailing over a cardboard sea / But it wouldn’t be make-believe / If you believed in me.” Same song, two different reactions: who knows why.

I used to run a singing group, two in fact, England and Ireland at different times. And every night we met I could guarantee that at least one person would cry during the course of the evening and that most people (including he or she who cried) would leave more uplifted than they had arrived. As for the crying, I could never predict what song would prompt it – associations are ever so personal, it is not always the obviously sentimental ones. In the early days of leading the groups, I would worry when someone cried; worry about having unearthed a hidden sadness, then letting them off into the night to process with the memory alone. But I soon learned from talking with any of those that had been reaching for the box of Kleenex, that the tears were almost always cathartic, a musical poultice drawing out little pockets of trapped poison that they didn’t know were there. As for those who left with added bounce in their boots, song had acted as a divining rod, unearthing a trapped bubbling spring of joy.

Tom Wait’s, ‘Waltzing Matilda’ – makes me cry every time. What’s yours?

5 thoughts on “Music Takes Me Back

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