Why You Have to Play the Whole Song

There are certain songs that speak to us.  The song choices are different for everyone, though some songs certainly have mass appeal.  Songs have the power to stir something up inside of us, whether it’s bittersweet nostalgia or a moment of exuberance and joy.

Inside each great song, there is a moment.  Sometimes it’s a key change.  Sometimes it’s a crescendo.  It could be a moment of silence after a thrumming rhythm, or a coda, or the reserved conclusion of a soft melody that brings a sense of peace.

Let’s do something together.  Think of one of those moments –the favorite part of one of your favorite songs.  Do you have it in mind?  If you’re alone, close your eyes for a moment and listen to it in your mind’s ear.  What does it make you feel?

The rest of the song is pretty boring in comparison, isn’t it?  There are hum drum parts of that song that you love so much, but that moment, the one you’re thinking of, it’s pretty incredible, isn’t it?

Now, consider this.  What would that moment be without the rest of the song?  Would it have the same impact?

I recently finished a massive cleaning project in my home and went through all sorts of stuff I haven’t touched in years.  One of my favorite projects was sorting through my old piano music.  I found books of music that I forgot I had, but which still impacted me in a very real way.  I saw Tori Amos music and remembered a particularly rough break-up and the cathartic pleasure pounding the keys gave me when I played the songs.  I flipped through “Nadia’s Theme” and remembered, with sweet fondness, watching soap operas with my mom when I was growing up.  I came across “Show Me the Way” by Styx, and remembered using that song as a release during the Gulf War (yes, the Gulf War … I’ve been around the block a few times).  There is a powerful chord sequence at the end of the song that always got my heart thumping and stirred my soul.  I decided to immediately take the songbook to the piano and play that part so I could feel the emotion of that moment again.

I hadn’t played the introduction or the first verse, or the second, or any of the build-up.  I just played four measures, and then I played that chord sequence.  I waited for the thrill.  I waited for that moment.

It didn’t happen.  On the contrary, the notes I played felt empty.  They felt dead.

Why did they feel so lifeless?  Why didn’t they have the same impact?

Later that night, I played the whole song, in its entirety.  When I got to the key change, it was as if a light switch went on.  It moved me.  It was everything I remembered.

That was my “aha!” moment.  My problem was that the first time, I rushed it.  I wanted to go straight to the climax of the song and I expected to feel all the emotion without the build-up.  I wanted to skip the “boring” stuff and cut to the chase, but cutting to the chase erased the significance and meaning.  That boring stuff turned out to be very, very important.

Life is like a song.  There are boring parts, and there are things we want to rush past.  There are verses that are tricky or mundane, and there are sections that seem to go on forever.  We want to get beyond those parts to our favorite part – our moment – and we think we can shortcut our way there.  We want to get past the loony guys we date and the horrible group job interviews and the stress of finding a place to live, and just enjoy the beautiful home and perfect relationships at the end of the rainbow.

We can’t.

Just as it’s the rocks and pebbles that give the brook its song, it’s the heartache and the frustration and the boring day-to-day junk that gives our life its beauty.  We can’t skip ahead.  If we try to rush through, we miss the parts that give those wonderful moments their exceptional splendor.

Life is but a song, and it’s worth listening to.  In its entirety.

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