Last week I wrote about Hearing- ways to engage with this sense, and touched on the effects of how and what we listen to on our health.I’m hoping some of you tried out the “Whispering Breath Practice”and would love to get feedback if you did.
Some of you know that my father died in May, and that my mother, who is still mourning and adjusting to life alone after 57 years of marriage, is visiting us. Perhaps it is this that made “This Will End In Tears: A Miserabilist Guide to Music by Adam Brent Houghtaling, catch my ear while listening to NPR as few weeks ago. At the end of piece, in which many sad songs were sampled, the interviewer said she didn’t want to leave the listeners on such a melancholic note and played “Put on a Happy Face” which was with its “grey skies are gonna clear up” optimistic lyrics and up-tempo created an uplifting through emotionally discordant shift. It happened too quickly. You could sense her discomfort, as if there was something wrong with being or reflecting on the melancholy notes that had gone before.
But it isn’t as simple as major verses minor chords. Houghtailing, who wrote his guide in part as a counterpoint to the “happiness industry” points out the many happy songs have minor notes in them. And that listening to sad songs may ultimately help us be happy by first allowing us to delve deeper into the melancholy. Something that America’s obsession with happiness, and insistence at the end of almost every consumer interaction on wishing you have a nice , great or awesome day doesn’t seem to have space for. This pithy Stepfordish command, or entreaty is in marked contrast to the national statistics on depression, and the often band-aid approach to the use of antidepressants. These definitely have their place, and I believe save many more lives than they harm. (This is just my opinion no need to go all Tom Cruise on me please). But sadness, and melancholy need to have a place and be embraced too. There seems to be a greater expectation for women to put on a happy face and be chirpy which may go a small away to explaining why more women than men suffer from depression. (I have been told more than once by men who were total strangers, to “smile” or “smile babe” while out in public.) Have any of you experienced this sort of thing?
By the way Depression is in my opinion a breakdown of the process that if allowed would naturally lead to its opposite. Emotions which need to be expressed and experienced get repressed and often turned inward. Which got me thinking that maybe it is the journey through with its pitstops and side trips into the shadows that is most important. Without feeling our feelings we simply can’t progress and this is often a soggy, circuitous and downright messy process that takes time. Time to assimilate, time to explore, and to process. Personally it primarily through reading and writing poetry and journaling that I can heal. However, there have been times that I wouldn’t have been able to do this without the complimentary use of an antidepressant. I used to be ashamed of this. So now I make it a point to speak out in the hopes that it will help to de-stigmatize depression, famously dubbed his ‘Black Dog’ by Winston Churchill. After all I am in good company. Some of the world’s greatest artists, philosophers, writers, doctors, scientists and others have struggled with this condition. The world would be a much poorer and less beauty full place without their contributions. This brings me back to Houghtailing’s book which includes a quote by the composer, Robert White, from the liner notes of his modern interpretation of the music of the 16th C. composer’s John Dowland’s music. “What his age knew, and we sometimes lose sight of, is that meditating on a beautiful expression of sadness can help to provide a thoroughly uplifting sense of consolation.” After all, like dying, melancholy is a natural part of being human. Both can be celebrated and reflected on with the latter perhaps more importantly, understood as a necessary and often productive means to self inquiry and living a more fully engaged life.
What are some of your favorite “sad songs” and which anthems have helped to get you through tough times? Please write and let me know. Include links if you like. Eventually I’d like to have a go to “audio gallery” of these for times when you need to listen to something that will really engage and nourish you heart and your sense of Hearing.