Crowd Interview: Can Music Heal?
The results are in. Your intrepid blogger is, unfortunately, quite behind schedule with this post, but I got many fantastic responses and I’m very pleased to finally put them up here. The responses range from the sarcastic to the sublime, and this certainly points to how complex and important an issue this is. I had a few thoughts that I thought I’d share.
First, this is a big question if you are an artist. For those of us who have devoted our lives to creating music or art of any kind, questions of this type really cut to the very marrow of what we do. We spend a lot of time at our craft, time that could be spent in other ways, and so I think many of us, when it really comes down to it, must believe that our work has a positive effect on the world, not just on ourselves.
Whether or not music actually expresses emotion, or has any power to heal, is a bit of an academic question. Judging by WNYC’s “Measuring Time” playlist, a playlist generated from listener suggestions, and the performances of several musicians at the memorial at Ground Zero, obviously most people believe that music is important when it is time to commemorate and to heal. Everyone may feel differently about this, this is because when we are trying to heal, we need to look toward matters of emotion, sensibility and spirit. Music, with its mysterious power to somehow address all of these simultaneously, is one of the few things that is appropriate.
Personally, I do believe that music can heal, but music can be very subjective. What is healing to one person can be offensive to others, the more sarcastic responses to this interview show how this is true. The question becomes a bit more complicated when we consider a public memorial. I suppose a way that I put this question into perspective is to consider what I would perform, if I was asked to do so, at an event like this. I would have two, perhaps conflicting, feelings: the first would be to honor the memory of those who have suffered, but I would have to balance this with what I feel is an artist’s responsibility to present music that is important to him personally, whether or not it will be popular with the audience.
In a situation like this the line between artist and public servant becomes blurred, and every artist will have his own way to resolve this tension, many won’t see any tension at all. I can’t say what mine would be without having been asked to perform, but if I had, I would try to find music that balances both concerns. I believe that the most important thing I have to offer artistically is a sense of authenticity. I would consider it my duty to offer music that I felt was healing for me, personally, to play, and hope that this would translate into a healing experience for the audience. Its my opinion that an artist does his best work when he plays the music that is the most meaningful to him personally, regardless of what he feels the audience might think, and for an artist do be valuable, he must do his best work. I always hope that if I do this, I will still reach people who may not like the actual music but still appreciate the authenticity of the performance. I would try to find the best music for me, and, out of a deep respect, play it as well as I could for everyone else. I realize I’m edging towards the question of “What is an artist? and what is he supposed to do?” which is always an interesting question, but not for this entry!
Second, my mother’s response to the survey is a very important one to me. (I put her response first, with all the others in alphabetical order.) On the morning of 9/11, as she wrote, she told me to go play, to “help heal the world.” This was an important moment for me, and it has been an important motivation for me since then. I won’t say a whole lot about it because of the personal nature of it, but I can say that the experience was unforgettable to me, and has become an important part of my reasons for pursuing music in my life.
I hope you enjoy reading these responses. I’ve enjoyed receiving them and putting them together here for all of you. Feel free to comment, I always like to hear from you!
As I recall it, you (Doug) were a senior in high school and had a rehearsal scheduled that night of Sept. 11, 2001. It had been an upsetting day, and many other events had been cancelled here in Oregon. As you went out the door with your trumpet, I remember hugging you and saying, ” Go play music and help heal the world.” I do believe that music is healing–for all ages and in many situations.
-Lynne Detrick, Douglas’ mom.
Mourning is a subjective experience. I was scheduled to play a couple weeks worth of gigs in NYC, beginning on Sept. 11. Those gigs didn’t happen. Watching the tragedy unfold on television was like watching an apocalyptic themed movie. My initial response to Sept. 11 was relatively shallow. It simply didn’t sink in. My next opportunity to work in NYC was early November. I visited ground zero, and it all sank in. There was still about 7 floors worth of smoldering ash, still on fire in places. The smell was awful. The workers at the site looked and moved like zombies. I’m playing in church for Sept. 11, and will probably play some Telemann “Heroic Music”. The music is based on virtues of knighthood.
-John Daniel, Professor of Trumpet, Lawrence University, Appleton, WI
The song that comes to mind for an occasion like this is Louange à L’Éternité de Jésus from Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time written for cello and piano. It’s the fifth movement. The piece is very emotionally driven and conveys a sense of mourning. There are several moments when the mood changes and elements of hope are expressed through various harmonic resolutions. The cello finally ends with a long, drawn out note on the tonic. The piano follows harmonically and the piece fades into silence. The tempo marking is infiniment lent (literally meaning “infinitely slow”).
– Ben Darwish, Pianist and Composer, Portland, OR
On September 7, I was present at an incredible fabric art exhibit — “Deep Spaces” — that was fresh in my mind on the day of remembrance of 9-11. The colors, stitchery and light of those “Deep Spaces” helped to modify the darkness of that tragic day. So, too, does the light and dark of music capture our souls and mind. Yes, music can heal.
-Theonie Gilmore, Executive Director, Wilsonville Arts & Culture Council, Wilsonville, OR
I hope it’s that awesome Alan Jackson song.
– William S. Marsh, guitarist and composer, Portland, OR
I feel there is a significant difference between music that commemorates and music that heals. To me, the former is about public and communal activity while the latter is personal, and while there may be some pieces that would work in both (pretty much any requiem fits this category) these are two different purposes. Regardless, music and art provide us ways of exploring our existence in ways that nothing else can. We are creatures that express ourselves emotionally; sometimes positively and sometimes not, but music facilitates cathartic release as well as providing fertile ground for our humanity to both heal and grow.
– Andrew Mast, Director of Bands and Associate Professor of Music, Lawrence University, Appleton, WI
After 9/11 I remember our local PBS (Wisconsin) played Sesame Street and Mister Rogers on repeat for days. I really appreciated that. I’d like to hear the Sesame Street theme.
-Jonathon Roberts, Composer, Pianist, Co-Director of Spark and Echo Arts, New York, NY