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Saturday, January 16, 2016

Music Matters

When my son was 10, his school held a concert with a 1970s theme. He was asked to come up with a dance solo and settled on a disco routine from Saturday Night Fever. He practiced and practiced, and we got him white pants and a white jacket at Burlington Coat Factory so he could imitate John Travolta.

When he came onstage, suddenly and inexplicably, screams rose from the audience as the first bars of the Bee Gees iconic tune started. Somehow I found myself joining in with the screaming, which continued throughout the song. When I think back on it, I am still surprised we all reacted as intensely we did.

Surprised, and not surprised, because we are more easily swayed by the power of music than by anything else. It starts early in life and stays with us to the grave—and it is, I’m convinced, one of the greatest (and freest) blessings life has to offer.

Bringing your baby home for the first time? Turn on the radio in your car and see what happens. Does it make the baby calmer, or more alert? Lean over her crib and sing to her and see what happens then. We are hard wired to move, dance, sing, stretch and shine to the sound of music, and we always will be.


When I was little the music that moved me most was classical or show tunes. As I got older I gravitated to folk, rock, jazz and blues. My son couldn’t get enough hard rock as a boy and now loves opera and classical music more. Interestingly, his father was a rock musician who became a cantor in Jewish synagogues; and that’s what my son is studying to be now. His stepfather is a diehard Grateful Dead fan with a strong predilection for guys like Ted Nugent and Iggy Pop.

My husband also introduced us to long nights of some of the best bluegrass I’ve ever heard via his family cabin in northern Minnesota. After a day of hiking and firelight dinners on the beach, Fourth of July weekends (and other weekends) end at the home of family friends who play mandolin, banjo, stand-up bass and harmonica and who sing beautifully or badly (depending on who feels like getting up at any given moment for a song).

That experience added more magic to my son’s life (and mine) than either of us could have imagined. Before he was born, I spent countless hours around a piano with friends in New York, singing torch songs and standards at the apartment of my dear friend Susan while her husband Robert accompanied us. What I learned there was that singing is one of the best ways in the world to make your friendships stronger—and to feel what it means to be alive in your own skin.

I am hungry for those days, because it’s been a long time since I sang with friends. Being part of a group of musical theater writers helps because whatever your tastes are, I believe most of us don’t just like or love music; we need it. If I have to drive twenty minutes without tunes I feel grouchy; when I sit down to write, I know my writing will the poorer without it. So when I see children’s music programs like the Suzuki Method or the Minneapolis early-childhood classes at MacPhail Center for Music, I thank whoever had the foresight to bring these classes to us.

So I hope we’ll do whatever we can to keep those classes and musical opportunities coming, in schools, theaters, music stores, apartments and families. Because it’s still the best deal out there in terms of entertainment—and making life lighter and brighter, even and especially on the darkest days.