It seems like Mother Nature is on a tear this winter, what with polar vortexes, thundersnow, drought, flood, fire—you name it. And it’s still February! Piled on top of weather drama, it seems like a lot of people—at least those in my various spheres of life—are getting unusually hammered by personal trials and tribulations of assorted shapes and sizes.
Turning to music for comfort and solace is not a subject that is talked about much—not out loud, at any rate—in our community, even though it is a perfectly natural inclination, and something that many of us engage in regularly. One’s listening choices can radically transform in the face of extreme stress, anger, grief, or whatever the dominant emotion of the moment might be. I know that for myself, music that I normally adore can become intolerable under such circumstances, and that every situation begs a slightly different soundtrack. Sometimes no soundtrack at all, but rather focused attention to the sounds around me, is what is most needed to promote a sense of peace and balance.
I’ve seen and heard some serious scorn from the new music community directed at the tendency for listeners to gravitate towards music that is familiar, rather than music that is new. An understandable bother, given that we are usually focused on whatever music is new and shiny, and we want to share the energy around that! However, I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t have sounds they gravitate towards again and again in general and, when life is under a strain, it’s pretty normal to reach for a familiar anchor. As it turns out, nostalgia like this can even serve to facilitate creativity. That is one of the magical things about music—it is basically just vibrations of air that can affect us at a very deep level. Whether it’s your selection of “desert island music,” sounds to provide counterpoint against a tough day, or to blow off steam to, or to facilitate crying in your beer, it has an impact.
This is not at all to say that new sounds—or the act of creating new sounds—can’t be comforting and/or rejuvenating. It’s that minds under emotional strain behave differently, and let’s face it: emotional strain is increasingly part of life on planet earth. I wonder what would happen if more composers held that in their awareness during their creative processes?
Here is some music I search out when life gets complicated. What about you?