Throughout life’s hurdles, and mine has had many, music has always been there for me. Music has lit me up, emboldened and soothed my heart, excited my pulse, exhorted me to dance, and helped me to cry.
I was born with lung disease, and in 2008 I went on the waiting list for a double lung transplant. As a professional singer waiting for a transplant — the gift of life — I found myself unable to perform as I once could.
So I escaped into music. Records. I played them nearly as often as I checked my oxygen levels. As regularly as coffee or tea, or IV medications. As much as my prescriptions helped me, it was music that got me through. It was the medicine for my soul. And no amount of pharmaceuticals can do what music can do for a person’s will and well-being.
So what does music mean in these challenging times? To me, it means life! Yet again I find myself waiting and isolated, but this time I’m not alone. Much of the world is sheltered at home due to COVID-19. Social distancing means not seeing our friends, and feeling anxious or hopeless, cut off from humanity.
For a musician like myself, it also means not performing in public. This in itself is a terrible and unnatural thing; live music has always been there for mankind.
Music has marched soldiers into battle, played at our weddings; live music was even playing as the Titanic was sinking.
And so again, out of necessity, I turn to recordings. My main love is the music of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. This particular kind of music has seen nations through two World Wars, Prohibition, and The Great Depression. Everything old is new again, and this music was built for crisis and catharsis. I can lose myself blissfully in a sublime trumpet solo by a young Louis Armstrong, feel wonderful emotions, and find goosebumps rising on my arms. That’s a pretty special kind of reaction.
For me, swing music has seen me through sadness, longing, love, happiness, drunkenness, hopefulness, hopelessness, mourning, and celebration. The whole range of human experiences.
So, just as I did when I was awaiting transplant surgery, I am turning once again to the sounds of my record collection for a reminder of the vast variety of human emotions.
I let myself feel the pounding excitement of a tune that gets my blood pumping, I let a mellow song soothe me. It’s all there. Just as you can choose a drink for your mood, so too can you choose a song.
Music can change our moods; it can transport me out of the doldrums of isolation and let me feel alive again. Music is simply a marvellous distraction, and it’s good to let yourself have some time to just put the world on pause.
To take it one step further, for those who know how to play an instrument, even at the hobbyist level, social distancing has presented us with an opportunity to pick up that ukulele or dust off that saxophone.
The joy of discovering or learning to play music can also be an invigorating and satisfying feeling, and now, more than ever, you can find professional musicians giving online music lessons.
Play whatever music brings your head or heart into focus, be it The Doors, Elton John, Louis Armstrong, or Bach.
Play it. Allow yourself that escape. Allow yourself to feel something other than ambivalence or anxiety. Allow yourself some bliss.