Music plays such an important role in human life. This seems to be especially true in the modern world, where people are listening to music nearly nonstop - what with mp3 players, car radios, in home stereos, online streaming, elevator music, restaurant mood music, grocery store music, and even the occasional ice cream truck belting out “Pop Goes the Weasel” as it rounds the corner, we are listening to music for a significant portion of every day.
So why do we dedicate so much time to music? There is an argument to be made for the modern person’s inability to stand silence, but beyond that, I think we tend to listen to music in order to invoke emotions. We are essentially emotional creatures, and music speaks beautifully to our inner world in ways that simple words and actions can never quite reach. Just listening to a song can even often completely change our mood.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into one of my second grade classrooms to see the 27 overly rambunctious children I’m used to seeing boiling about in near mayhem transformed into comparatively quiet, studious little creatures under the influence of the quiet classical music the teacher likes to play every once in a while. It’s quite an incredible thing.
Or take for example the distinctly different feel between a laid back jazz bar and the energetic atmosphere of a salsa club. When I go in the first (of which there are several in Madrid), I feel relaxed, disposed to have lengthy conversations about all manner of topics. When I go into the second, my body just has to move, impelled by the beat and the melody to let itself be free. There is no reclining and conversing there, that’s for sure!
And of course, I totally capitalize on the unique qualities of different styles of music when I go running. When it’s a good day and I’m not worried about how long it takes me to get done, I listen to some good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll that I can sing along with as I prance through the paths crisscrossing the park near my apartment. But when it’s a slow day and I need a little extra motivation, I put on some of the driving beats from my favorite kick-butt aerobics teacher. That REALLY gets me moving.
Then there are those moments that come out of nowhere, those moments when I hear music floating through the streets and touching my soul. I don’t look for those moments. I don’t choose that music on my ipod or computer. And yet those moments come, they break over my unsuspecting head in waves of beautiful, lyrical emotion. Now, coming across music in the streets is a fairly common occurrence here in central Madrid, as street performers abound in the more heavily visited areas, but half the time the music is only so so, not really meriting a real pause in your day. There are many that are happy and bring a smile to your face as you continue walking, but there are very few that take your breath away and hold you paralyzed in the street. But that is exactly what happened to me yesterday.
As I came out of the metro, every step toward ground level brought clearer and clearer strains of beautiful music closer to my ears. Not just any music either – powerful, majestic opera. There was a little old woman dressed all in black playing an accordion on her lap, her face bathed in sunshine as her lips poured out depth and power. She had a sort of melancholic half smile as her face and would occasionally lower her eyes demurely when the man standing across from her would respond in his majestic baritone to her sure soprano. They were simple people, but they were breathtakingly beautiful.
I stopped awhile with the rest of the awestricken crowd in the little plaza, drinking in the glorious notes. When the song ended and I walked away, I felt somehow elevated, enriched, gloriously at one with the beauty of the world around me. I felt like I too should lift high my head, open my mouth, and pour out powerfully raw emotions in a burst of perfect melody.
It was pure emotion, put forth in truly the most lovely of ways.