Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Finding a Way to Soothe the Savage Beast

For thousands of years, music and song have been used to celebrate new life; to ease the passage for those who are dying. It's played for harvesting and to plant; to instill courage and daring before battle.

Now, science has proven that music, especially baroque, boosts intelligence and helps people learn math and new languages. Now, the Homeland Security research labs have discovered that each of our brains has its own soundtrack, which changes with our mood. They’re making recordings to induce relaxation states for those who are working long hours under intense pressure or sharpen reflexes for emergency workers. I’m not sure I want them mucking around in my brain, and my song's my own to play or learn. Personally, I believe that the universe plays through us when we’re ready to listen.

My first strong connection to music came at age 5 when I was living through my own emergency.

One afternoon, a door-to-door salesman appeared, hauling a large trunk on wheels. Cradled inside were several miniature violins. My mother, a talented pianist, was amused when he put one to his shoulder and began to play a popular tune. When he switched to a Hungarian Czarda, the flare of his bow, and the brilliance of the quick fiery notes sent jolts up and down my spine. I had to have a violin of my own. Mother wasn’t quite convinced. While she went to get him a glass of water, the scrawny scarecrow clad in a shiny black suit, leaned close. Between you and me, he whispered - There’s a chord to soothe the savage beast and one to start a war.

At that moment, wrong or right, I needed to believe him. And when you believe that strongly wishes do come true. I didn’t tell my mother what he’d said, but I was convinced that that violin would soothe the savage beast that was living at our white Colonial house on Hadley St.

It was frustrating at first. Anyone who’s learned to play a violin knows what I’m talking about. I scratched way through Twinkle Twinkle Little Star until I arrived to simple melodic classical pieces. My parents weren’t getting any cozier and my music had become my retreat. I practiced loudly to drown out the yelling. I cried while I beat the strings with my bow. I played until my fingers couldn’t turn the knob to open the door. All the while I kept looking for that elusive chord.

I was 7 when Donny, the boy with Downs Syndrome, moved in next door. I could see he was angry by looking in his eyes. And I wondered, if the anger he so often expressed was because he was stuck. Because nobody understood what he was trying to say.

A few weeks later, on the night of a full moon, Donny started going outside. He would perch on an old tree trunk in his backyard and howl at the sky. It was the saddest sound I'd ever listened to. And no one ever heard him but me.

The next full moon, I picked up the violin, crept down the stairs an to join him. He howled. I played for the pain and the frustration we both felt. For someone to understand; to say that everything would be alright. As the frenzy of emotions settled, Donny went silent. I was no longer playing - I was being played, as if the music of the universe was pouring into me. I could feel it rising up from the center of the earth through the soles of my feet and out the top of my head. I heard it on the wind, that played with the strings. I don't know how long this continued, but when I looked up, Donny was shuffling back inside.

I stood there for while, wondering what would happen next. Would my parents be different? Would love move in? As I drifted to sleep, I realized that what mattered was I’d found a way to soothe the beast inside me.

I played for many years after that, even studied opera for several more. Then I gave it up. I had other things to do. I still listen to music and I dance when spirit moves me to tame the beast, to celebrate. Music gave a voice to my soul.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this, Sam. I read it with a huge lump in my throat that would not swallow. Hugs to my new/old friend in spirit. --Barbara G.