Music has charms

“Music has Charms to sooth a savage Breast.” So wrote the poet William Congreve about 400 years ago. He is usually misquoted as having written, “savage beast.” According to a well worn story, a gifted musician decided to check out the truth of this proverb. Deep into the jungle he went to a clearing. He sat down on a stump and began to play. A ferocious bear saw dinner with a built in tooth pick in the musician and his bow. Just as he reached out to devour the violinist, the gentle strains calmed him. He sat down transfixed at the sound. A wild rhino charged the man. He too stopped in his tracks and settled down to listen. A boa constrictor dropped out of a tree, to strangle the man, heard the music, did a double flip in flight and coiled quietly at the man’s feet humming along with the music.

Suddenly a roaring tiger pounced from the jungle, and gobbled up the musician violin and all. The other animals chorused, “Hey! What did you do that for?” The tiger put his paw to one ear and said, “What’s that you say?”

Beautiful music has little effect on deaf ears. But, to paraphrase Jesus, “Those who have ears to hear…” find music to be soothing, enlivening, transforming. Our former family doctor Roger Lewis suddenly found himself a desperate patient when a massive stroke paralyzed him. Gasping in agony, then bleeding profusely under the surgeons knife, barely surviving, then climbing slowly with his one good arm and leg out of the pit of paralysis, he was sustained by the powerful strains of “Ode to Joy.” Ironically the composer of this inspiring chorus Ludwig van Beethoven never heard it. He lost his hearing, before its first performance. Music can move us even when we don’t technically hear it. Justin Osmond, son of Merrill, lead singer of the famous Osmonds has this experience when he plays. “I …hear the music through the vibrations of the violin as it creates a musical reaction through my cheek bone and all the way to my brain where it interprets the sounds of music.” Justin is hearing impaired, but not heart impaired. He wrote the book, “Hearing With Your Heart.”

It was once thought that music was an incorruptible art form. Today we know differently. Music can aid and abet the ugliest passions.

So we try to insulate our children and ourselves from bad vibes. This approach has its limitations. On his way home from the Trojan war, the ancient Greek Ulysses’ boat neared the island of the Sirens. These nymphs sang so beautifully that no human could resist them. Their song would suck the unfortunate sailor onto the rocks surrounding their island, and he would be destroyed. Ulysses wanted to survive the voyage, but also was curious to hear the song. So he filled the ears of his crew with wax so they could not hear the deadly music. Then he had them tie him to the mast and commanded them to never release him until they were safely out of earshot of the Sirens. They obeyed. The ship and crew were saved. The only casualty was Ulysses sanity. When they untied him, he was nutty as a jay bird from hankering after the music. What parent of a teenager can’t identify with that scenario, kids who think they can dabble in temptation without paying a price? That’s as looney as Ulysses.

In the years we were recording in Hollywood, and performing around the country I saw too many talented and gifted people both performers and listeners wrecked on the rocks of enticing music.

My friend Truman Madsen had a better idea than Ulysses’. He said just put a musical group in the bow of the ship and have them play better music. No ropes, no wax, no insanity, unless we are insane enough to think we can plug our children’s ears and listen to salacious music ourselves.

Selectivity in music is itself an art form today when you can carry a lifetime of tunes in your shirt pocket, or pick them out of the ether at the touch of a button.

Musical memories can accompany you forever. My own mental library includes the bagpipe and brass bands of our Freedom Festival, romantic ballads that transport me back to crew cuts and suede shoes, down home back porch pickin’, The Salt Lake Southern Baptist choir making the very trees rock to their rhythm, playing trumpet in our town’s Sunday night band concerts, sitting in the middle of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir as they sang at their own party, pinned back in my seat and then erupting out of it as 3,600 full throated barbershop quartet members filled a football field and turned the stadium into a megaphone, more than “76 Trombones” at a state band competition closing with a unified thunder for America, harmonizing with our children and grandchildren in our weekly family “sing thing,” blending with my neighbors at church in musical prayer and praise to the Lord, my guitar and me alone with the breeze in the palm trees singing away my homesickness on a far away island in the South Pacific, lullabies to our children when they were small, cheerful songs at 3:30 in the morning as Sharon and I get ready to go to the temple for our weekly assignment. One morning Sharon said, “I am impressed you can be so chipper this time of the morning.”

“It’s not me that is chipper,” I said. It’s the song. I’m just along for the ride.” Music will carry you. Let it. Just be sure it is taking you to the places you want to go.

I would like to hear from you, click the ‘view comments’ link below and let me know what you think.