How music inspires, energizes us

Joe Nathan
Education Columnist

What are your favorite songs, and why? Is it mostly the melody, or that and words?  Do you associate a song with a memorable moment or era in your life?

I ask because of two recent news events related to the power of music. The first is a remarkable story from National Public Radio about music’s impact on some people with dementia. The second is Dick Clark’s death.

My all time favorite is “Some Enchanted Evening” from the Rogers and Hammerstein musical, “South Pacific.” I associate it with “an enchanted evening” when I first met my future wife. It was in “a crowded room,” as the song suggests.  And there was a spark. We’ll celebrate our 38th wedding anniversary this year.

Bob Dylan’s “The Time’s They Are A-Changin’” is another “all-time” song. It reminds me of the 1960’s civil rights, Vietnam, women’s movement struggles. It’s a bit brash – as many of us were in those years. But it’s also a plea for openness and potentially, cooperation.

Finally, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”  Looking it up, I discovered that Beethoven used a poem written in 1785 by Friedrich Schiller (Like most people, I could not tell you any of the words.

We’re talking about music this week, first because of a National Public Radio story mentioned earlier. It helps document a new discovery: giving some people with dementia the opportunity to hear their favorite songs apparently “brings them to life.”

The NPR video has “gone viral” because results are so dramatic. People who had not communicated at all for months, even years suddenly start talking. And it’s tied to not just hearing any music, but listening to some of their favorite music.

Here’s a link: www.npr.org/2012/04/18/150891711/for-elders-with-dementia-music-sparks-great-awakenings

Finally, sadly, there’s the passing of Dick Clark on April 18th.

Younger readers may associate him, with televised New Year’s Eve celebrations. Some older readers will remember “American Bandstand.” This TV show brought popular music to the country in the 1950’s through the 1980’s. From 1956 on, Clark was the host.

And, from the Philadelphia studio where the show aired, millions of American teenagers saw a racially integrated group of kids dancing to the music. Clark did not have to say anything about equality. The daily dances made it clear: young people of different races could get along fine.

Clark also asked young people which songs they liked best. Their opinions mattered.

Music is basic for many of us, regardless of how well we do it. I’m not a great singer. I played piano and clarinet for a while, not well. But for many, including me, music enhances, enriches and inspires our lives

If you have time, please share a few of your favorites. I’ll pass them on in a future column.

Joe Nathan, a former public school teacher, directs the Center for School Change at Macalester College. Reactions welcome, jnathan@macalester.edu

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