Sunday, August 5, 2007

Finding God through Billy Joel & Bud Light

One of the greatest ways people experience joy and laughter is through music. One of my all-time favorite examples of this comes in the movie The Shawshank Redemption when Andy locks himself into the prison's music room so he can play Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro" for the inmates. The look of peacefulness and calm that comes over Andy's face during this scene provides a wonderful lesson of how music can lift our spirits in even the most hopeless of situations, and in this scene Andy realizes he can go to a place through music that they can't "touch or take away from him."

A second example of the power of music to connect people and provide joy comes in another wonderful movie Almost Famous. In this particular scene Russell, who is mentally and physically exhausted after an extended binge which has left him unable even to speak, is brought back to life after hearing the song "Tiny Dancer". What makes this particular scene so inspiring is that everyone begins singing along with the song, all of them enjoying their own memories it conjures up while also reveling in each other's company as they belt the song out together.

Last night I had a similar experience in Chicago on a rainy summer night listening to a wonderfully entertaining band called 16 Candles. What makes this band stand out is that they play a set list of 80's songs with a sense of unadulterated joy that never fails to bring the crowd back to a time and place in their lives when these songs were significant to them. I often find myself watching the crowd more than watching the band, as it is amazing to see the transformation that comes over people when they here a particularly memorable song. The range of ages runs the gamut from teenagers who know the 80s from an older brother or sister, to groups of women in their forties getting their own "band back together" as they belt out the songs from their youth. Everyone is laughing and dancing and having fun, and you can literally feel the positive energy move through the crowd as people exchange knowing glances.

This was especially true during the song Piano Man by Billy Joel which is an anthem that provokes people to throw an arm around their neighbor and sing the song together. Most people in the crowd knew every word. So it was after consuming a couple of beers where I was feeling especially pleasant that I joined in this chorus last night, and looking back through the crowd I saw literally hundreds of people had linked arms and began to sing along. The feeling was incredible. Whatever that feeling is, in that time, and in that place, I experienced a tremendous power of spirit. For those few minutes no one was aware of any differences between each other, and everyone was able to truly share a communal feeling of togetherness.

Eventually the song ended, and shortly afterwards so did the show, but the lesson and feeling from that experience will linger with me for a long time. The act of seeing that many people singing and laughing was extremely inspiring, and really got me thinking how powerful of force music really is. I've certainly seen the effects music can have on the elderly, as demonstrated by this story
from my book Stories of Hope and Courage, but I also forget what a powerful tool music is for everyone regardless of their age or station in life. I often recommend the patients I work with make some time everyday to listen to some of their favorite music, as this one little gift to yourself can pay tremendous dividends. We take for granted how music affects us physiologically and how much this can initiate the relaxation response. Music is also tied strongly to memory, and as I saw last night, returning through music to a cherished time in your life can be especially powerful. I would also highly recommend attending concerts of bands that play your favorite music, as the communal nature of this experience is amazing. I can't promise you will have a religious experience like I did, but seeing everyone around you so full of joy and happiness can't help but be contagious.