Missing the Music

Welcome Back, Old Friend

Photo by Mohammad Metri on Unsplash

When I was little, I had a small problem with pronouncing words, or misconstruing them. I read voraciously (isn’t that a great word?) so I understood the definitions of words but couldn’t accurately utter them. I also made many assumptions about words.

For instance, consider the famous quote: Music Soothes the Savage Breast.” For years, I thought it was “beast,” not “breast,” and I am not alone in having this misunderstanding. The actual quote, by poet William Congreve in 1697, is as follows:

Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,

To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.

When informed of the error by my parents, I debated the point, because it sure seemed to make more sense that the author intended to soothe a beast rather than a breast. Now I understand it better; it’s all about soothing an agitated human, who probably was being a little beast-like anyway.

This is all to say that one recent summer night, I found myself just a bit agitated about fairly miniscule things. It was going to storm, and the dog already was angsty due to the Fourth of July fireworks. The internet was stirring up trouble. I couldn’t find a password I needed for a website. Just stupid little things.

I was watching a movie, an old favorite called “Miss Potter,” about author Beatrix Potter. It has an absolutely lovely soundtrack, and I suddenly remembered that I used to listen to it all the time. Then I realized that I used to listen to lots of music all the time. But somewhere along the way, I had stopped listening. It was a strange revelation to say the least.

I commenced a new mission that night to track down my favorite songs, scattered on iTunes and Amazon Music. What a trip down memory lane! And darned if I didn’t feel the soothing of the beast — I mean breast! My heart sang; my mind eased.

Once again, I asked myself: What the heck? I used to listen to music throughout the day, especially in the car. Why had I abandoned it for so long? Was it the pandemic? I would think that music would have been a wonderful support mechanism during those long months. But music was missing in action.

Upon reflection, part of it may be my propensity to be a visual rather than auditory human. I see better than I hear; I learn best by reading and writing down notes, rather than listening to a speaker or podcast. I also know how much I love listening to nature’s music: the birds singing, the wind blowing, the sound of water, the rustling of leaves — all coming together in the most amazing of concerts.

And yet, I find music to be cathartic beyond measure. Its ability to affect so many human emotions is amazing — to stir up the soul, to settle down the mind, to cause tears of joy, sadness, awe. The merits of music are well known. Here is a little light reading on all of the benefits: https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-music#physical-benefits.

I have a very eclectic music collection, crossing so many different genres — just like my books. But my favorites tend to be soulful, new-age melodies or from my favorite movies. When I was pregnant with oldest daughter, I listened to “The Phantom of the Opera” every single day on the way to work. I am surprised that she didn’t come out bellowing “Sing my angel of music!” Well perhaps she did, in her own unique way. As both my girls grew, I found myself hooked on the soundtracks of a wide variety of movies they loved — from “Little Women” to “Mulan.” I’ve also collected a variety of tunes that can immediately and positively enhance my mood. The music from the movies “Begin Again,” “Forest Gump” and “Hoosiers” come to mind as examples.

Beyond movie soundtracks, I love a wide variety of music — Billy Joel, George Winston, Sarah Brightman, Dan Fogelberg, The Cranberries. I suspect I date myself. A lifelong favorite is Mannheim Steamroller. This unique music brought my brother and me closer together in our late teens. Talking on the phone one night, separated by hundreds of miles and the realization we didn’t see eye to eye on many things, we discovered that we both loved Mannheim music. Since our musical tastes at that time were extremely different, it was quite the surprise for both of us.

So, this absence of music remains mystifying. Perhaps I put the music to rest for a while because it can bring about significant emotion. As I write this, I’m listening to a very old favorite: “Songs from the Secret Garden.” Happy tears leak out the corner of one eye. The last couple of years have been a rollercoaster in many ways — with lots of ups and downs. I may have simply focused on moving forward, as so many of us have done.

But William Congreve had it right: Music has the power to soothe the breast, soften rocks and bend trees. I feel like I’ve welcomed back a very old friend, one I haven’t seen in a very long time. How I’ve missed you.



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Betsy Hayhow Hemming

Betsy Hayhow Hemming

Betsy Hayhow Hemming is an author and leadership coach. She writes fiction and creative nonfiction. www.betsyhemming.com.