Friday, February 6, 2009

Bringing Music Back: From Me to We

The brilliant author and neurologist Oliver Sacks has recently written a book on the ways in which music can move us, change us, and bring us together. Musicophilia ( describes the peculiar, the miraculous, and the poignant ways in which music is integrally woven into the fabric of our lives, our memories, and our very neurological compositions. He tells tales of individuals afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease, who, after months or years of confusion and lost identity, respond to music in beautiful and remarkable ways: smiling, keeping time, and regaining a sense of lucidity that sometimes lasts for hours. He tells of instances where music has animated those with Parkinson’s, and given those who have suffered from strokes the ability to speak.

Music, it seems, has presented a pathway to these individuals: a pathway to their memories, their souls, and their very sense of self. The ability for music to stir in people emotions, memories, and a sense of wellbeing is truly amazing, and may be one of the reasons music has a way of bringing people together – of developing community.

I recently went to a CBC Book Club recording, where the author in the hot seat was renowned musician and conductor Rob Kapilow (who coincidently, is chummy with Oliver Sacks – oh, to be in that circle of literary brilliance!). Mr. Kapilow (, in ‘All You Have to Do Is Listen – Music from the Inside Out’, describes the way music moves us at this very instinctual level. We don’t need to be musicologists* to have this visceral reaction, to feel what the music is telling us, to respond to it in real and beautiful ways. Music can bring us together, tie us to a certain cause or moment, and make us feel like we’re a part of something larger than we are.

It seems, somehow, that this has been lost. I blame it on the iPod. Before the invention of the phonograph in the late 1800s and the subsequent explosion of recording devices and recorded sound, people had to go to a concert hall to listen to a musical performance. It was something that was necessarily shared – as Rob Kapilow likes to put it, it was a “we” experience. Think about how we listen to music now: through our Ipod headphones. There is nothing communal about it – it’s turned into a resounding “me” experience.

Music is made to be shared. When we hear music, we think back to the moments they’re embedded in. Music and the people and places we love are – or should be – integrally connected.
So my call out to you all is to celebrate music with those around you. Go to more concerts. Rent out a Karaoke room and sing your heart out with your friends (and some beer). Take a salsa class. Share the Music, because that’s how it was meant to be experienced.

*Yes, yes, I know this is probably not a “real” word. Am I OK with this? SURE AM! I suppose I would consider myself a ‘functional linguist’, and am at ease with taking creative liberties. Words have come in to our vernacular over the years because they’ve become socially relevant (I love how ‘facebook’ has now become a verb). Down with the Ivory Tower of Linguistic Supremacy! Give words back to the people, I say! (A linguistical liberal commie? Some might say …). And if you have a problem with this, you can Facebook me …


John Horn said...

Our communities here, I'm sad to say, are very insular and siloed. The walls of our silos take many forms, but none more prominent than the iPod. Plug yourself in. Turn it on. Turn it up. Nothing else matters.

This is how so many of us travel to and from work/school/friends on the buses and skytrains (even bikes) of the Lower Mainland. When it comes to the community of music, we're all about 'me'.

Do you know where the musical community is all about 'we'? A little place I like to call Downtown Africa.

You can try to retreat into your iPod when you ride the bus, but people will just ask you to borrow it or - get this - share it with you. And, of course, you oblige because, when you share, that's when the singing starts. And, really, there's something indescribable about 17 people crammed in a late-1980s toyata van singing 'Sexyback' at the top of their lungs.

That's from 'me' to 'we'. And that's community.

Godfrey said...

Having been initiated to the joys, but admittedly siloed joys, of a Robson Street Karaoke bar last Friady, I say we bring it to the masses, installing machines on Vancouver's buses would be a great way to build a little community, no?

Theodora Lamb said...

Hey, great post!
A couple of months ago, CBC Radio 2 broadcast this wicked series on music called The Nerve.... it's all about how our brain functions on music and the impact music has on our lives: everything from our personalities to our relationships... it even dives into evolution and music. Very cool - check it out: