On a recent walk through the neighborhood, “Mr. P.C.” from John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” album hit my playlist. Immediately, I was ushered back to a very specific time and place. My mind was flooded with memories within the first 4 measures of this tune.
As I continued walking and reminiscing, I found myself reflecting on the power of music.
Many of us have experienced the power music has to transform our moods and to tap deep into our emotions. Whether it’s in our rooms, on a walk, at a concert or worship gathering, music has the power to reach into our soul.
I could go on and on about how music has played a powerful role in my life.
Music can bring joy. If I turn on a Joao Gilberto or Antonio Carlos Jobim bossa nova, I can’t help but smile and move to the music (I would call it dancing, but my youngest daughter would disagree).
Music can bring laughter. I have always loved the crafty, and often humorous, lyrics of the Beastie Boys. Growing up, I was a big fan of The Dead Milkmen and They Might Be Giants. Both of those acts intentionally write songs that bring about laughter.
At the same time, music can bring me to tears. I can’t listen to Tchaikovsky’s “None but the Lonely Heart” without shedding a few tears. The same is true when I listen to “Appalachian Spring: VII. doppio movimento” by Aaron Copland. I remember the time the chancel choir sang a song that had been used at my mother-in-law’s celebration of life…they had no way to know that…and I could not pull myself together and had to just “take a moment” before I could precede with the worship gathering.
Music also has the ability to inspire protest and stir up a bit of anger and rage. I think back to the first time I heard Rage Against the Machine. I was immediately inspired to figure out ways to overthrow the oppressive government. I remember listening to Public Enemy and how Chuck D’s lyrics helped open my eyes to institutional racism. I think of the songs of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger that call us to action.
Music also has the power to heal and speak words of hope into our lives. I think of the song written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach and made famous by Jackie De Shannon, “What the World Needs Now is Love”. It’s a timeless classic with a relevant message for all generations.
I also think of how music has the power to transport us back to very specific moments. I can hear certain songs and immediately be flooded with memories.
If I hear John Mellencamp’s “Cherry Bomb”, I recall how that was the song playing as I walked into my first middle school dance.
Anytime I hear The Cure, I remember how I leaned heavily on the album “Disintegration” after experiencing my first heartbreak.
If I hear Minor Threat’s version of “Stepping Stone”, I think of high school swim meets. I used this song to help pace myself in races.
If I hear “Boom Boom” by John Lee Hooker, I am transported to Headliner’s in Muncie and can picture being gathered around a table with friends.
If I hear Pete Yorn and David Gray, I find myself thinking about driving along Highway 1 around the Santa Cruz, CA area.
When I hear the Buena Vista Social Club, I think about my first Valentine’s Day with Emily.
So, back to “Mr. P.C.”.
When I heard this song on my walk, I was taken back to Eastern Illinois University and the United States Percussion Camp…over 25 years ago. I was in an “advanced mallets” class, taught by Julie Spencer-Blume. She was teaching us about improvisation. We learned the melody, chord structure and scales utilized in the tune. We learned about taking cues from one another and the playful interaction that should be present when “trading 4’s”.
After class (it was our last class of the day), my friend Wisconsin Dave and I raced back to the dorm. We both started looking through our books of CD’s (this was long before the days of streaming services and mp3’s) to find a copy of John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”. Dave found his copy first. His CD’s were better organized than mine!
We grabbed my CD player and made our way back to the music building. Finding the door to the mallet room locked, we found a university employee and convinced him that Professor Johnny Lee Lane would approve of him letting us into the room to practice! We spent hours listening to the track and attempting to craft solos. We traded solos, critiqued one another, made suggestions and practiced late into the evening…all in an effort to be better prepared for our class the next day. And, it was awesome!
Today, I am thankful for the power of music!