The Soundtracks of Our Lives

Music has always been a big part of my life. Everyone in my family, with the exception of my long-suffering father, grew up playing multiple instruments, including violin, clarinet, cello, flute, piano, and the ubiquitous guitar. My mother taught guitar for many years, though she never formally taught any of us. I suppose my brothers and I picked that instrument up by osmosis.

Given this environment, music is something I think about from different perspectives. As a participant, as a musician, as an aspiring songwriter, as a connoisseur, as a former bar-bander. But there’s another perspective I’ve been wondering about lately.

The pervasiveness of music in our culture.

Music is everywhere you turn to listen. Elevators, holding on the phone, wafting through the background of stores, stereos at home and office and in cars, iPods and iPhones, television shows, films. Kids dream of winning American Idol or the Voice or whatever the latest rocket-ride to musical fame that Hollywood has whipped up.

Why is music so pervasive these days? It was never like this before.

My theory is that we want a soundtrack for our lives. We consume so much media laced with music that we’ve slowly become accustomed to the idea that music somehow lends more meaning to life, that the painstakingly orchestrated and auto-tuned lives we see onscreen are somehow more real than our own.

There’s nothing further from the truth.

But, there’s also nothing closer to the truth.

I find, as I get older, that I enjoy silence more. Silence clarifies. It’s restful and it focuses.  In no way does my love of silence diminish my love of music. They’re simply different.

Though, perhaps not.

Because there is no such thing as silence.

Whether you subscribe only to the materialistic view of life or the theist view of life, all that exists sings. Electrons whisper in their orbits. The tiny engines of cellular life whiffle and tick as they revolve in their duties. Rain drums on roofs. Blood and fluid pulse in the veins of animals and plants. Ant feet skitter across stone. Lightning rips at the fabric of air. The winds rustle and moan. The event horizon of a black hole stretches across an expanse of space, impossibly distant from our blissfully ignorant little planet, and who is to say that such a magnificent collapse of destruction has not it’s own strange soundtrack?

I suppose we cannot escape our need for a soundtrack, whether we strive to fill it with hip-hop or jazz or classical or simply silence. However, the silent version, in all of its grand orchestration of life, I think, is more true.

7 thoughts on “The Soundtracks of Our Lives”

  1. Music defined my father’s life. He was self-taught on the guitar, violin and mandolin. He even invented an octolin, only to learn that someone had already beat him to it.

  2. Just curious, have you read The Book Thief? An accordion player and his instrument portray the inherent meaning music brings to relationships. We are drowning in music today; it has been devalued. It is often used to connect us superficially. Our local department store just fired its pianist of 27 years. Apparently, it wasn’t enough to satisfy the masses…. they prefer something less real. Faceless. He was like the accordion player and made his piano breathe.

    1. I haven’t read that or heard of it. Do you recommend it? Always (and always) looking for good books to read. Yeah, devalue is a good word. Maybe that’s the hallmark of our times? We devalue everything, whether it be something good like music getting turned into something very mundane; or something really good, like life and babies, devalued into something twisted and dreadful. Thank God there are still some things that can never be truly devalued.

  3. I think you would enjoy The Book Thief, not only as a musician, but as a writer. His writing is spare yet vivid. The story is narrated by death, but is neither morbid or dark. The author (Susak I think it is spelled) uses stories his Austrian and German parents told of their childhoods in Nazi Germany/Austria for some of the most significant scenes. My daughter recommended it to me, and I couldn’t put it down…

  4. The soundtrack running for me right this moment is comprised of the soft hum of the fridge and the ticking of two clocks: the wind-up wall clock that was my mother-in-law’s, and the mantelpiece clock my son made in woodworking class. And then there’s the tune that’s playing in my head – today it’s a jumble of “Hey Jude” (played on the car radio when I turned it off) and “I will wait” (don’t know how that one lodged itself in there; it was there when I woke up this morning). You’re right, there’s no such thing as silence.

    I find there are times in my life when I’ve lost “my” soundtrack. I used to have a very firm one, knew exactly which were my songs, which tunes had meaning and expressed just who I was. Now, not so much. It’s closely connected with whom or what I identify with. I’ve never let “popular” music dictate what I liked (like Dave says in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”: “I’ve never heard of those bands before, which is a pretty good sign that they’re cool.”), but now I don’t have anyone dictating my music to me. And I feel a bit lost…

    1. I’m finding, as I grow older, that actual music is becoming less and less part of my soundtrack. I suppose, like you say, there’s a certain amount of dislocation in that. Kind of like de-tethering from an easily defined anchor. Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing yet.

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