If I were ever stranded on a deserted island, the one survival item I would want to have with me is probably not the first thing you’d expect one would need to survive nature. No, it’s not a pocket knife, matches, rope, or a tent. It’s none of the standard, go-to things one might think they’d need in order to survive. But for me, I’d like to think that I could get through or survive anything in life as long as I had… music.
Music has always been there for me, through all of the crescendos and rock bottom moments, instinctively pulling me back into another frame of mind.
Music is all-pervasive, and yet we often seem to take it for granted. Often times we don’t think much about how music intersects our lives, and how it affects us, and the lives of so many other people. Think about how a particular mood is enhanced when we add music. When we feel good, the music can make us feel so much better. And when we’re sad, upset, or lonely, music has a way of taking us someplace else. I think we can all agree that music can have a powerful effect on us at different times in our lives.
Have you ever found yourself hitting the car’s accelerator, increasing your speed, when a fast song came on the stereo? Or how about when you heard a song that reminded you of someone or something, triggering unexpected feelings and emotions? Did you give in, and surrender? Or skip the song, hoping to erase the memory?
How did you react the very first time you heard Adele’s, Hello? Stevie Wonder’s, Superstition? Phil Collins, In the Air Tonight? I Told You So, by Randy Travis? Or Yo-Yo Ma’s, Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major? And if you’re unfamiliar with any of these artists, or songs, I encourage you to listen for yourself.
I could literally list hundreds, upon thousands of songs, and musicians that have all shaped my life in some profound way. Perhaps it was while adoring the soaring strings through an emotional love scene of Phantom of the Opera at the Kennedy Center, holding my lover’s hand; or cooking Sunday breakfast in my p.j.’s while dancing around the kitchen to the blaring horns of “Keep On Looking” by Sharon Jones and The Staple Singers, “Respect Yourself”; or sitting alone, with my eyes closed, inside a packed theater amongst perfect strangers and being shaken spiritually by Black Violin; or sitting on top of some random, nice guy’s shoulders in Montreal surrounded by my girlfriends while we raged to Mumford and Sons at a music festival; or driving up the CA coast with the windows rolled down, music cranking. All of these moments hold special memories and feelings for me that can never be overlooked.
And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share a pretty funny story from my book, recounting the time I picked up Bill Nye, The Science Guy from the Orlando airport during the 2012 Obama re-election campaign. Upon hopping in my car, he asked “you mind if I play some music, Laurie”? Within seconds of his connecting his iPhone to the radio, “Radar Love” by Golden Earring came blaring out of the speakers, causing me to laugh out loud and giving me a high-octane boost that caused me to hit the accelerator full force and send the car speeding along the highway. Bill began dancing from the passenger seat, moving his arms up and down. We were like two kids in high school who had stolen their parents’ car for a joyride. Now, every single time I hear that song, I’m taken back to that moment upon first meeting my friend, Bill.
I’ve been transformed by all of these wonderful experiences, instigated through the power of music. Sound literally penetrates the body in a way no other art form can. It expresses the state of mind of one individual to another, or that of a group to another group. While it’s being performed, performer and listener share in this expression of feelings. Often times the performer can provoke such strong feelings that the listener is overcome with emotion. This is what I like to refer to as the “power of music”.
There are not enough adjectives in the English language for me to fully explain my love for music. Music has been a part of my life since… well, since the time I was born, I suppose. Thankfully, my father’s passion for music trickled on down to me. He recalls taking me to my first concert to see Juice Newton at the young age of three. I stood on the bleachers singing most of the words to her songs while on-lookers stared in disbelief (this was 1983 guys, and way before Shaggy’s “Angel” rip-off).
I began piano lessons at age five, started a band with my neighbor Holly when I was ten, and regularly sang for my parents and their friends whenever they had parties. As a young child, I experienced who I was through sound. I felt whole when I was singing or playing music. But, when I was fourteen years old, I found myself at a crossroad. I had the opportunity to attend one of two magnet high schools, each with an entirely different focus. 1: Performing Arts or 2: Pre-Law.
Deep down, I knew my talent and abilities only went so far, yet I really wanted to go to Dillard High School for their Performing Arts program. Instead, I chose Fort Lauderdale High’s Pre-Law program. For a myriad of reasons, I went in a direction different than where my heart really lay. But, why?
I let the noise and advice from those around me affect my ultimate decision, “musicians, and performers don’t make a lot of money. You would be the first lawyer in the family. The work’s not always stable, and lawyers are successful and powerful”. Well, guess what?! Although I graduated in the top 7% of my class, and built a career that I’m extremely proud of; I never become an attorney, and I didn’t go to law school.
I forgot about that twenty-year old decision until last year. I had begun working with a woman to help grow my business, and during our second session, she asked me just the right question, triggering that familiar sense of fear. I immediately became that fourteen-year old girl again, facing an important decision about which way to go in life. This heavy “stuff” came up for me because I found myself at a crossroads yet again.
I was contemplating whether or not I should completely change course with my career. I wasn’t happy, and felt unfulfilled working for people who only cared about the bottom line, and mistreated their employees in the process. At the same time, I had just sold my first book to a publisher, and had to decide if I wanted to continue working full-time, writing only as a side-hustle; or feed my passion and desire of helping people change and grow, facilitating the attainment of optimal health and happiness.
In the end, I chose to feed my passion. And, now I’m here.
I don’t regret the way my life turned out for a second. So I didn’t go to law school. I’m now writing stories that (hopefully) make people feel less alone, inspired, and motivated. I’ve had scores of adventures, and earned valuable opportunities that helped get me to the place I stand today, and it feels pretty freakin’ awesome. I’m now living the life I used to dream about, and helping others has always been at the forefront of that reality.
What is most astonishing about this next part of my story is when you experience your life coming full circle. Just last month while standing outside of my hometown airport, Fort Lauderdale International (just hours after re-opening from a mass shooting the day before), I found myself standing alone on the curb waiting for my friends to come pick me up. Inches away, also standing along the curb were two gentlemen waiting for their ride.
Still feeling somewhat shaken after having just walked through the terminal where the shooting took place, I smiled at the men and said, “hello, I hope you’re doing o.k. this morning”, and proceeded to apologize for the chaotic crowds of people buzzing in and out of the double, automatic doors of the terminal. That’s when one of the gentlemen (Kev) said “yeah, absolutely terrible. Thanks for the apology, but this is actually home for us. We just flew in from DC”.
Intrigued because up until recently, I had lived in Washington, DC for six years, I said, “oh yeah, did you enjoy the city?” He (Kev) responded with a smile, “oh yeah, we played at the Kennedy Center last night. It was pretty cool!”
“Really”, I asked, squealing with delight. “What kind of performance”? With proud expressions splashed across their face, they responded in unison, “we’re Black Violin”. (Truthfully, I had never heard the name, but there was something special about these guys.) “Wow, that’s wonderful. That must have been an amazing experience”, I responded. “Congratulations!”
As I often have a tendency to do, I continued the conversation. “This is home for me too, I flew in from California where I live now, but I used to live in DC until a just a few months ago”. They (Kev and Wil) responded with “oh yeah, that’s awesome. Where did you go to high school”? As the three of us stood there chatting together, cars seemed to be moving around the perimeter of the airport at a snail’s pace. We quickly learned that we’d all graduated high school in 1999, where I attended Fort Lauderdale High, and they attended none other than Dillard High School. The gentlemen met one another in the school’s performing arts program, and as the saying goes, the rest is history. We continued to chat, with me, still in disbelief that the conversation had taken such an interesting turn.
As an unfamiliar car approach the curb, quickly flashing its headlights, I knew our time was up and our conversation had come to a close. Just before they walked away, Kev turned around and asked “hey, where do you live in CA”? “With a slight smirk, I said “oh, you’ve probably never heard of it, it’s a pretty small town in Northern California called Grass Valley”. With great astonishment, Kev said “no way! We’re playing a show there in a few weeks”! Of course they were. Without hesitation, I smiled and said “I’ll be there”.
As promised, I saw them again on January 29th, this time back in Grass Valley, performing live at The Center for the Arts. And as I sat there, eyes closed, listening to these incredibly talented musicians for whom I had met only once, each with an excellent sense of rhythm, pitch, and timbre, I felt myself go deeper within. It was as if I was relinquishing my old limited identity and becoming something more powerful, expanded, and closer to my true self. The ease and alleviation of the stress that I had been experiencing after my recent move, and newly established life and career, seemed to wash over me like waves crashing up along the wall of a rugged California coastline. It was extraordinary!
Releasing Stress Through the Power of Music
Music can have a profound effect on both the emotions and the body. According to the University of Nevada, Reno, “faster music can make you feel more alert and concentrate better. Upbeat music can make you feel more optimistic and positive about life. A slower tempo can quiet your mind and relax your muscles, making you feel soothed while releasing the stress of the day. Music is effective for relaxation and stress management”.
To incorporate music into your busy life, try playing or streaming music in the car, or put the radio on when you’re in the bath or shower. Take portable music with you when walking the dog, or put the stereo on instead of the TV. Singing along can also be a great release of tension, and karaoke can be very enjoyable for all of you extroverts out there. I used to sing in my church band when I lived in DC. It was a fantastic way to relieve stress, build inner courage, and feed my musical spirit animal.
If you don’t watch the t.v. show, This Is Us, you are seriously missing out, and need to start watching now! (I warn you though, you won’t be able to get through an episode without being moved to tears.)
In last week’s gorgeous episode, “Memphis”, William (played by Ron Cephas Jones) gives his estranged son Randall (played by Sterling K. Brown) some final advice in his final days before finally succumbing to cancer: “Roll all your windows down, Randall. Crank up the music.” William could have sat there, on his death bed, lamenting on all those almost and could-haves, but instead he tells Randall that he’s not sad because “the two best things in his life were the person in the beginning and the person at the end,” and that’s not too bad at all.
So remember friends, “roll all your windows down, and crank up the music.”
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