What does a song hold?

…Reflections from a neophyte musical director.

Why do some songs stop us in our tracks?

As soon as Tosh, then Dorene and then Alicia sang to me, something shifted in our relationship. They had found a key to open the door out of the room that says – cancer diagnosis, patient 154482 – and somehow they were connecting with me, so powerfully, that time seemed to stop.

Song holds both past and present, the path taken and the path not taken, wishes fulfilled and not fulfilled. It creates a new arena for dialogue with the listener. The quality of tone, the power in the voice, the liquid sound that hits each note perfectly brings exquisite pleasure and deep comfort. I’m not sure why. Listening to song offers a space where the listener can dream.

The words don’t belong to the singer – Sinatra’s ‘Strangers in the Night’, John Grant’s ‘I wanna go to Marz’, Stipe’s ‘Everybody Hurts’, we have heard them before. They have already laid down a footprint in our memories – a route back to other places, other people, other emotions. When they are sung again, those memories resurface, and enrich the presence of the new version, the new person singing, who is looking at us, who we know well before the song, and much better after the song.

Or is that an illusion? Do we really know Alicia better after we hear how she comforted her husband as he lay dying, by slipping into bed with him and saying “now you go to sleep as I want to sleep now” and then sings Eriskay love song chorus 'Sad I am, without you.' Do we know Nikki better when she wakes up from her medically induced coma to find her family and friends around her in shock at the pain that can be endured, and sings with her nurse, “If you think you’ve had too much of this life – Hang on.”

Yes I think we do know them better.  The lyrics let us into their strength and their story. But it is the pleasure of the act of singing, the dialogue offered to each of us, that lets us feel their strength and their fragility, connecting with our own fears and hopes. In my case, I am humbled by Nikki’s generosity, her ability to care and keep on caring. And I see in Alicia a road map of the grace I would like to experience at the end of my life.



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