Silent Night, Holy Night
December, the darkest time of the year, moving slowly toward the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year and the beginning of relief from the long nights. The busyness of the holidays; spending time, money and energy on others may be part of the way we try to distract ourselves from that dark night. The state of the world and the uncertainty of our future as a people is especially present this year as news never seems to be good and progress seems out of reach for peace on earth.
How do we humans stay through the darkness, remembering the light that always comes? We sometimes gather together in our clans and communities, the families we choose and the ones we began with. We decorate and celebrate with candles and festive lights and we listen to music. In this way we comfort ourselves. Music is more than just comfort to me in the dark night. Music is the gift of the mystery and wonderment that I cherish all the time. Music is always a powerful force. It’s amazing how certain sounds can transform, communicate, and inspire. Eric Jensen who wrote Music with the Brain in Mind says; “Music is a language that kindles the human spirit, sharpens the mind, fuels the body, and fills the heart.”
One of my current favorite singer and songwriters is Iris Dement. In a recent interview on Fresh Air she talked with Terry Gross about her early life growing up and the power that music had in her life. Like me, she grew up in a very religious environment, and she, like me, had a mother who sang beautifully and had had aspirations of success with singing music before marriage and children took its place. She said, “I saw my parents use music to survive. You know, they – they had to have that music. My mom had to sing. And my dad had to go to church. And he had to hear that music washing over him and through him… It was a, ‘I’m not going to make it if I don’t have that.’ And so I felt that that’s my job. That’s how I think of what I do. I have to give people that lifeline, you know, that I saw my parents reach out for and that I was taught to reach out for. And so that’s what I aim to do. And I guess I don’t feel like I can do that without that connection to the spirit.”
“The Light Gets In” Photograph by Suzanne Lorenz
“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen, writer, singer, songwriter
All my life I heard my mom sing in church and it was a place I sang as well, in community, in spirit. I heard her sing at home, doing housework, cooking and alone in the garden. It was as natural as breathing to hear her sing. Her life may not have been what she imagined it to be, but the beauty of her voice was a gift that was always around me. Although I didn’t aspire to singing as Iris Dement did, I did aspire to bring “joy to my mother” through my own successes and in some way make up for her lost ambitions.
Another of my hero’s, Oliver Sacks, in 2007 wrote an amazing book, Musicophilia : Tales of Music and the Brain on how music and the brain interact in some strange and wonderful ways and on the healing power of music. He says this:
“Music, uniquely among the arts, is both completely abstract and profoundly emotional. It has no power to represent anything particular or external, but it has a unique power to express inner states or feelings. Music can pierce the heart directly; it needs no mediation.” And simply put;
“It really is a very odd business that all of us, to varying degrees, have music in our heads.”
Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain
Although music has always been important to me, it wasn’t my passion. When I was 23 photography became my passion. I had finally found a medium of expression that didn’t involve speaking or singing or drawing, all of which I was not adept at doing. The first time I took and developed a photograph, it opened a door that I have yet to close of excitement, creativity and connection.
“Which of the two powers is able to raise us to the highest sphere, love or music? I think we may say, that while love can give us no idea of music, music can realize the idea of love. But why separate one from the other? The soul soars on the wings of both.” French composer, Hector Berlioz,
When I married Sam, a proficient and committed musician, singer, and songwriter, music clearly became more present in my life. I once again was surrounded everyday by music and hearing a voice so powerful I am moved every time I hear him sing his or another’s songs. Our life together combined our passions of photography and music and eventually writing. As a gifted and experienced singer/songwriter Sam’s gifts have been mine to enjoy and cherish. Here is a link to his youtube channel singing a song he recently co-wrote with Michael Hateley and Rob Grad called All I Want, All I Need:
Many years ago we began holding singing circles in our home for fellow musicians and friends and suddenly, singing music in community became part of my life again. When we moved to Seattle, we were able to continue a music circle at our friends’ home and soon we will have a music circle in our home again. I wanted to play music as well as sing so I started to learn how to play the ukulele which now brings me joy when I play and sing, either alone or in a group.
Photograph by Sam, fingernails polished by Róisín
In many ways all my children have inherited some love of music in their lives as well, whether in appreciation, inplaying the bass guitar in a band, or including music in their writing, and my grandchildren already are showing an amazing interest and gifts in music.
“It is cruel, you know, that music should be so beautiful. It has the beauty of loneliness of pain: of strength and freedom. The beauty of disappointment and never-satisfied love. The cruel beauty of nature and everlasting beauty of monotony.”
I am blessed to have music in my life, whether listening, singing or playing. From Bach to Dement to Beasley; theses are all gifts that give my life meaning and purpose. Certainly in this season, as in the whole year, music is part of my spirit and one that I want to continue to incorporate in my life and art.
I would like to share a gift to all of you. I offer you a look and listen to a youtube video my niece Kim and I made of my photographs and a favorite piece of music of mine. The music is Bach’s Suite for Solo Cello No.1 in G Major played by YoYo Ma. The photographs of the Seattle Sky and Space Needle are mine.
In Joy, Suzanne