What A Piece Of Work Is Man (Or Humans If You Wish)

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Imagine a movie without music. Think of a church service without musicians and choirs. Think of a bride walking down the aisle in total silence. There is something in our natures that is drawn to harmonious sounds. We have created instruments and songs from the beginnings of human history. Music is the sound of angels soothing our hearts. 

My father used to take me with him on Saturdays to one of the local record stores. Back then vinyl renderings of music were on small discs that ran at 45 revolutions per minute. The shops that sold them often allowed customers to preview them before purchase and so I would sit next to my dad wearing headphones and listening along with him to the classical music that he so loved. Daddy filled the house with the sounds of Beethoven and Grieg, Au Clair de la Lune and the 1812 Overture. Each evening when he came home from work he would place a disc on the turntable of the Victrola and listen while reading the newspaper or his latest book. It is how I remember him. It was a major part of who he was.

I suppose that my own love of music began way back then but I eventually developed a far more eclectic taste than my father ever did. It would be difficult for me to name the type of music that I most love. I enjoy jazz and big bands like my Uncle Paul did. He was a fan of Louis Armstrong and Glenn Miller. and so am I. I sometimes imagine myself listening to the radio back in the days before I was even born. I enjoy the pure sounds of recordings before synthesizers and computers began to enhance human sounds. 

As a teenager in the sixties I went crazy over the music of that era. I listened to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Beach Boys for hours on end, sometimes playing a particular song over and over again. Rock music was in its heyday and I devoured the many choices with delight. This was a time when rock and roll matured into an art form and the genius of some groups was equal to that of the old masters whom my father so enjoyed. 

I have a thing for soundtracks and most of the music from the eighties as well. When the two were combined as with Saturday Night Fever they became iconic. Music somehow demonstrates the ultimate in human creativity and at the same time it provides a kind of escape from the trials of everyday living. Music soothes the soul.

If I had to choose the one album that is my favorite I suppose it would be Abbey Road by the Beatles. It was one of the first times that each of the songs on the LP blended so seamlessly into one another. It is a modern day symphony. Every note comes together in a way that sets it above all of its competitors. With the union of exceptional lyrics, wonderful melodies and fabulous instrumentation it is one of the greatest works of all time. It also serves as a kind of review of musical history playing homage to raw jazz, vaudevillian ditties, soothing melodies and brand new techniques. The work as a whole piece builds to an emotional crescendo that ends with one of my favorite lines of all time, “and in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Abbey Road is a kind of sociological/philosophical commentary on the world.

During the pandemic I’ve been tied to home more than ever in my life. I make the best of the situation and keep myself busy but sometimes it begins to get old. Music becomes my saving grace. I listen to one of the many albums or composers that I most enjoy and I am transported to a different plane. My mind is no longer locked inside the confines of my home. My imagination soars and I am free. Sometimes I dance to the sounds; other times I am compelled to write. I might even undertake chores with music, making my tasks appear to be more fun than they really are. No pill would have the power to make me feel better than listening to my music. 

After my father died my mother often used his records to entertain us. We acted out silent plays along with the music or engaged in creative movements while we dusted furniture and picked up the clothes and toys we had left on the floor. I can still see us riding horses to the William Tell Overture or moving our fingers in a pretense of playing a piano concerto. Mundane tasks became grand adventures with that music playing in the background. Eventually as our own tastes expanded Mama would play Donna Summer while we all danced with her grandchildren. I never ceased to be amazed at what an incredible dancer my mother was. She floated across the living room like a delicate feather. I still smile at the memory of those times.

I hear people saying that musicians are not essential workers and I have to disagree. Frankly without music our world would be such a dreary place and I’m not sure that I would have kept my sanity during the pandemic. As always I remain in awe of the creative genius of those who make the music that so enhances each day of our lives and brings out the sun even when times are gray. “What a piece of work is man!”  


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