Music Can Make Me Cry   (12.02.03)


Music and I have been bedfellows for a long time.  I’ve experienced life with music in two dimensions: one, as a listener; and two, as a musician.  The musician part seems to have drifted away over time.  Lack of practice, availability of instruments, willingness to spend the time necessary to play at the level I would like, these are all reasons that I bandy about, but the truth of it is, I think, that I’ve chosen to do other things in my life.  My need for physical activity seems to have won out over the contemplative and sedentary life style of a good musician.  I don’t regret that choice, although if I was talented enough to be an average musician with little ongoing work I wouldn’t shun that status.

The other dimension, the listening part, sticks with me, in my thoughts, emotions, and sometimes in the way I behave.  I’m not sure if my past musicianship serves to intensify all these things, but some of my friends seem to think so.

Although this has happened to me much in the past, the other day I took more notice than normal when a piece of music I was listening to caused me to choke up.  You know, that emotion that catches you in your chest, interrupts your breathing and, if you let it go would end up in a bit of a cry.

I started thinking about the different music that causes me to react this way and concluded that, for me, there are a couple of paths that music can take to my heart.

First, there is the emotion that comes from what I call ‘memory music’, the music that brings back thoughts from the past.  These thoughts can be of family, friends, great moments, or sad moments.  They can be distinct events in my mind or they can be a collection of memories with a common thread.  I think this is why we all have those special songs from our past.  Some of those songs, when we hear them, cause us to react in a way that often sets our kids to wondering about us, and not in a positive way.  We may immediately jump up, grab our spouse and start dancing around the kitchen, or we may start staring off into space seemingly disconnected from everything around us at that moment.  What really drives my kids to distraction is when I start singing along to the music - off key, of course.  But, what frightens me is that I can remember all the words of these old songs!

Second are the pieces that catch me off guard and hit deep inside for no apparent reason.  It’s a reaction that I don’t understand.  The music can be classical, big band, old pop, new jazz, or new compositions of today.  Although, I confess, rap has never had this effect on me.

The emotion may be some unremembered event that the music makes connection with in my subconscious, but much of it is the emotion driven from listening to a wonderful composition or the interpretation of a piece by a great musician.  One notable moment occurred when I first heard Martha Aurgerich play Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto #1.  I immediately went out and bought the CD and continue to get choked up whenever I listen to it.  I’ve always liked this piece and have listened to many musicians play it, but Martha’s performance pierced me inside.

Moving to the other end of the musical spectrum, I can say that some jazz played by Larry Carleton, the group Fourplay, or Pat Metheny can hit me inside as well.  These are definitely not driven by memories as I only discovered their music relatively recently.  Larry’s ‘Michelle’s Whistle’ or Pat’s ‘If I Could’ puts me in a reflective mood and tightens my chest every time I listen.

Maybe this second type of musical, emotional moment isn’t felt by everyone, but I’m glad it happens to me.  The good feeling I’m left with usually lasts for hours.  What is also rather special is that it isn’t a one time event.  I can listen to the same piece two weeks later and experience the emotion all over again.

So there it is - a confession - owning up to a ‘guy cry’ thing.  Not something us guys ever feel comfortable talking about.


“Without music, life would be a mistake.”                   Friedrich Nietzsche