I just finished watching “Bill and Ted Face the Music.” It is not a great movie, but for a proud member of Generation X like me, it was a fun visit with Bill and Ted, whom we first met during their “Excellent Adventure” back in 1989. Whoa! (That movie totally stands up, by the way.)
It may be a bit of a spoiler to tell you that the song that unites all of humanity (as foretold in the original Bill and Ted movie) does indeed get played at the end of this sequel. As the music builds there are shots of people all over the world not just listening, but being handed an instrument and invited to sing and play along, to participate in the very creation of the song. Imagine all different types of people around the world joining in a moment of musical unity.
With that finale, I must admit, I got a little teary. Not just at the idea of gathering in a large group, which I miss terribly, but at the validation that what the world really needs right now is the ability for everyone to gather and make music together. As an opera singer and early childhood music teacher, I know at my core that if we could do this it would kickstart the healing of the global trauma we are all currently experiencing.
Why? Why would a bunch of people getting together for a global musical jam send us on a path to healing? How can the arts, and specifically music, begin this healing process?
We are missing a sense of community. Music can bring it back quickly. We have been quarantined away from each other for over six months. Social distancing measures have been important, and we should continue to carefully monitor all our social interactions to keep everyone safe and healthy. But the loss of connection and community with others is hard on all of us. From our youngest babies to our elders, we have all felt the detrimental effects of isolation.
Human beings are social animals. The Homo sapiens species survived even though we weren’t the biggest or the strongest of the early hominids because we were able to live in a community and share resources such as food and warmth, and to work together for the protection of the group. There are even theories that music making may have been one of the tools used to build community.
We need to process our feelings of grief and loss. Music gives us a way to express those feelings. We have all felt a tremendous sense of loss over the past six months. Many of us have lost loved ones and have not had the opportunity to engage in traditional mourning rituals, or even sit by their side in their final moments. This is truly heartbreaking. Even if you personally haven’t lost someone, you might have had to miss an important graduation or cancel a long planned vacation. Perhaps you had a family reunion or a wedding planned for 2020 that has now been rescheduled. Even the inability to visit with friends and relatives the way you normally would creates a feeling of tremendous loss. Children have lost “normal” school, playdates and activities. Parents have lost child-free time and alone time, and that can strain even the best of relationships. It’s a lot to process.
Singing and playing music, or even just listening to music can help you unpack those emotions. Children can express their difficult feelings by stomping around and singing about what makes them mad or sad or even scared. Adults can unlock some of their grief in a way that feels safe to share with their family. If you have big feelings, you need an outlet, and belting out a song or wild, energetic dancing might be just what you need.
We are missing a feeling of control over our lives. Music unleashes creativity and gives us an outlet to express ourselves. So many choices that we took for granted in 2019 are no longer ours to make in 2020. This is true for every member of your family. The consequences of an ill-advised choice can literally cost lives. Children cannot run to hug their friends, and grandparents can’t always visit with their grandkids. Singing, playing an instrument, dancing, marching, banging on a drum…these are all methods of creative expression that will give you a sense of agency over yourself, your emotions and your choices.
Don’t get caught up in the idea that you have to be a professional to engage in music making. Figure out how and when you will do it, then make it happen. You don’t have to spend any money to have a family dance party at home. Find an organization that is hosting a virtual dance party, like the Cleveland Museum of Art Mix events. Find the karaoke version of your favorite songs on Youtube and sing your heart out. Watch a Cleveland Orchestra Mindful Music Moment. And if you have the privilege to be able to make a donation to our local arts organizations to keep them around for us to enjoy when we can go out again, please do so.
Virtual learning can be challenging in many ways, but I have found that music classes can work quite well over your favorite video conferencing app. Whether you are looking for a music class for young children or private lessons for your children or yourself, don’t be afraid to try out the online version of classes. You may find your shoulders relaxing, your breath coming in to fill your lungs and your song (and stress) flowing out freely in the safety of your home.
By Jennifer R. Woda, who has been singing since before she could talk. She is the co-director of Sing and Swing LLC, a licensed Music Together® Center, and has sung and acted professionally with many opera and theater companies in Cleveland. She lives in Cleveland Heights with her husband, Brian Thornton, a cellist with the Cleveland Orchestra, and her daughters Maya, an 11th grader at the Cleveland School of the Arts, and Madelyn, a sixth grader at Monticello Middle School. She is also a kidney transplant recipient (9/12/19) and has been quarantined for 10 of the last 12 months.