Keep the Music Playing

I remember the first time music changed the way I saw the world.

I was sixteen years old and had just watched someone I’d known almost all of my life transform before my eyes in the worst possible way. She was unrecognizable, unreachable, and destined for a path where loyalty, honesty, and everything I valued so dearly about her wouldn’t stand a chance.

As with most difficult times, I remember reaching out to my grandfather, whom I knew I could always count on to tell me the truth. We sat in the park for hours one afternoon in silence—he always had this incredible way of knowing how to comfort without words—and I finally asked him how I could possibly sort through what I was feeling.

He turned to me and smiled in that kind, empathetic, but never overly optimistic way he used to. “Chopin,” he said. “Turn on some Chopin and you’ll find your way.”

Well, that’s precisely what I did. And believe it or not, somewhere between piano sonatas, nocturnes, and waltzes, everything started to make sense. It wasn’t all good—in fact, some of it was a lot rougher than I thought—but it all made sense. Life had changed, I had changed, things would never quite be the same again, and Chopin had absolutely helped to show me the way.

From that point on, I guess you could say that music became my best friend. We’ve sort of walked through life together—over the hills, up the slopes, and right on through some pretty big hurricanes.

I carried Sarah McLachlan with me through the crazy ups and downs of my first love. And man did she help. I’m not sure I would’ve ever gotten to the heart of my heart without her.

Jonatha Brooke helped me to make sense of the first relationship that really shook my world upside down in a way I had never imagined. Her words brought clarity to an otherwise very obscure path.

I walked around New York City with Frank Sinatra singing in my ears for the first few months of graduate school, hoping to discover if I had embarked on the right journey at the wrong time. Somewhere between “My Way” and “Strangers in the Night,” I found my answer.

And I was listening to Mozart the night I decided to write my very first political blog post in 2009. I stared at the screen for some time tuned in to a piano concerto before making that final decision to hit “send.”

For every major wonderful, life-changing, inspiring, heartbreaking, gleeful moment I’ve experienced, there is a song that has cuddled up with it.

As with most things in my life, my grandfather was right. Every time I turn on Chopin, I think of him. And I’m eternally grateful for his advice to me in the park that rainy afternoon.

2012 is sure to be a challenging year. I invite you to join me in bringing music along for the ride. There will be sadness, happiness, excitement, tears, discovery, longing, loss, love—well, some of those things for sure. I’m hoping that music will do for me what it has always done—help me to discover things about myself I never knew. Experience has taught me that it’s pretty darn good at helping me make sense of confusion, ambition, and self-doubt. And it’s certainly a pro when it comes to broken hearts and newfound love.

So, I’m looking forward to a wonderful 2012 journey. I hope you are too.

A special thank you to all of the musicians who have inspired me over the years and made my vision of life, love, and priorities so much clearer, richer, and more alive.

And to the old friend who inspired this column, thank you for the memories. And the music. I still carry them with me.

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Jack Kolkmeyer
8 years ago

I’ve always enjoyed your writings and media appearances. I just read this article and was reminded of the importance of music not only thorughout our lives but especially at an early age. As a radio broadcaster here in Santa Fe for 25 years, I had the opportunity to interview many musicians over those years. My first questions to them were always…In what year did you turn 13? Where did you live then? What music did you listen to? There was something about 13….it’s like that’s when we really first “listened” to what was unfolding around us and, in many respects, music led the way. The musicians always immediately got into it….the rest of the interview was a pice of cake. I found this article to be reminiscent of those interviews…..thanks.

9 years ago

Yes you can. As long as you have email set up on the phone. And it downloads tlcerdiy. But I prefer to use the web base mail application to download the files. So if you use Yahoo, Google, or Hotmail, use the applications that are from the mobile Internet, not the mail app integrated into the phone. But truth be told, I’m not sure if Google or Hotmail does it because I use Yahoo. But I’m almost certain they work.Sorry I get off the topic down here/ / /And as much as I love the iPhone. It doesn’t download ANYTHING tlcerdiy from Safari (unless you jailbreak it, which I did XD), except for images. Everything is through App Store, Mobile iTunes, or iTunes on a computer, and it isn’t even free! Except for Apps and Podcasts. I’m not hating on the iPhone, I’m just pointing out the flaws.Hope this helps

9 years ago

I have always loved music, esp. instrumental music, if you agree w. me that the most amazing, versatile instrument ever conceived was the one God gave each of us: the human voice. I have several favorite musical genres, but can enjoy just about anything except atonal forms of jazz and some stereotypical country music. Also wanted to say that it’s very nice, and a great change of pace, to come to a blog comments page where profanity and hostility are noticeably absent. :-)

9 years ago

Happy New Year! I used to work at a pizza raenaurstt when I was at college. I ate pizza every day and never got sick of it, the topping combinations are endless… I’d never heard the word kabocha squash before.

9 years ago

je ne svaais que Disney avait repris la musique de Respighi.Je ne regarde pas la vidéo.J’ai acheté ce disque après mon dernier séjour à Rome et pendant longtemps je me suis bercée du titre de ses évocations romaines avant de me décider à les écouter, tant j’avais peur d’être déçue.Merci de me rappeler ce doux souvenir…

Dave Wooldridge
9 years ago

My wife and I both were music majors in High School; I was in marching band, and our choir. We’ve been married going on 30 yrs. now, and have made our hobby into a side business. We both had many, many record albums when we got married, and when the CD revolution began, we started to convert our albums over to CDs. Soon we had so many, that I thought’ Hey, we could make money off of these.’ So, we lined up w/ a local car club, and started playing music for their cruise-ins and car shows. We’ve been doing it steady now for a dozen years, and it’s just as fun now as it was then. We play anything from the big-band era up to the 70’s and mid-80s. so,yes, I totally agree; music makes hard times easier, and good times even better. The BBQ sauce in your pulled-pork sandwich of life!

9 years ago

“I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And He hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.” Psalm 40: 1-3…
If each of us prays daily for the healing of our land, and gets our friends, relatives and acquaintances to join us, we will have a real change. We must also pray for our Congresspeople, perhaps, especially for those who are such heathens even when they claim to be believers. There are so many very evil men and women in that bunch on Capitol Hill.

9 years ago

Candace Salima
9 years ago


9 years ago

Who can not relate to this beautifully written article. My collection of music reflects the roller-coaster that is life, whether blues, rock, classical or jazz, whether feeling joy or sadness: it is all there in the music.

9 years ago

Yes, good observation and coming so soon after the passing of Dobie Grey who expressed the same thoughts so beautifully in a song. Give me the beat boys and free my soul.

L.N. Smithee
9 years ago
Reply to  Brian

Oh, no — Dobie Grey’s gone? That’s a shame.

I had to fight back tears when Nickolas Ashford of the Ashford & Simpson songwriting team and Jerry Leiber of Leiber & Stoller passed on the same day. So much great music from those men, and nobody on the scene even close to replacing them.

Before that day was over, I found the Twitter account of Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, and thanked them for “On Broadway” while they are still among us.

9 years ago
Reply to  L.N. Smithee

I know this happens to every generation, but I grew up in the 50/60’s. Song writers like Kris Kristopherson, Brian Wilson, Neil Diamond, Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, John Lenon, Jagger and Richards, etc. Don’t see anything comparable on the music horizon today. But all old farts say that about the current crop of whatever.

My favorite classical is Bethoven’s 9th, Chopin is ok, Mozart is better.

I certainly agree with ms Bila about the ability of certain music to move us, having certain quantities of alcohol along with it helps even more depending on the mood..

L.N. Smithee
9 years ago

I grew up on pop music, and it’s still my greatest love, although in recent years, I can only annually identify four or five songs that are as good as those I listened to in my school days and early adulthood. It was the proliferation of soulless computer-generated mechanical rhythms — faster and louder than any human could ever play — accompanied by software-aided vocalists who shouldn’t legally be called “singers” that drove me to seek melody and fluidity in another place where I knew I could find it — classical music.

I had always liked Wagner’s “Ride of The Valkyries” and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony from the corner of the culture where they have always resided (mostly in television commercials and comedy parodies), but didn’t dive in to discover how much more there was. I remember one particular night when driving home I pulled over to the curb to wait until one majestic piece was completed so I could buy it at the record store (remember them)? It turned out to be Ottorino Respighi’s “The Fountains of Rome.”

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t eschewed The Who, Chuck Berry, The Beach Boys, Chic, No Doubt, Spanky and Our Gang, Little Richard, Billy Joel, Johnny Rivers, Robert Palmer, Donnie Iris, Puffy AmiYumi, Falco, Umphreys McGee, The Drifters, and more favorites from the last half-century or so. But only a few of these artists will be listened to in the 22nd Century, and there’s a reason why the ones who have lasted as long as Chopin have.

One last note: If you have small children and don’t want them to think that Kanye West is a legendary musician, you may want to park their carcasses in front of the YouTube videos of Leonard Bernstein’s excellent “Young People’s Concerts” series.

Ron McCafferty
9 years ago

Dear Ms. Bila,
I couldn’t agree more with your Grandfather’s wisdom. I too have listened to a lot of classical music over the years when experiencing many highs and lows and life’s challenges. Although not a musician myself, (except for a short career in a high school band and a drum and bugle corps) I have sung for many years in our church choir with my wife and we certainly have gotten much more from doing this than we’ve invested. It has certainly helped us over the many bumps on the road of life that we all encounter.

Keith in KC
9 years ago

Lovely column, Jedediah. Music thankfully plays a part in most of our lives and when an artist (Be it Music, Film, Art, Fiction, etc.) truly connects with us, it feeds our souls with much needed substance and light. I also suggest that people take at least a few nights out of their year and go to a club or the mega-arena near you and enjoy live music. I love it all, from Rock to Blues, Bluegrass to Reggae, and a bit of everything else. I go see live music at least twice a month, sometimes more. I found a club close to home that caters to many genres and I enjoy seeing artists I may not of heard of otherwise. The place, after many seeing shows there, now feels like home to me. I don’t even drink. I just go to hear good music, up close and personal.

So do get out and see people actually performing music. To be around others who love music as much as you do is one of life’s grand pleasures for me. Again, wonderful perspective, Jedediah. Also wanted to note that since you mentioned Jonatha Brooke, I remember falling in love with her album, “10 Cent Wings” when it came out. It was a consistently soulful and beautiful collection of songs and it made me wonder, still to this day, why more people aren’t aware of her. But that’s what’s also great about music, is when you discover brilliant obscure artists for yourself. My favorite recent songwriters include, Mark Kozelek, Joe Pernice, and Grant-Lee Philips. Not mega-stars, but their music is as much a part of me as my friends are or what I do for a living. Yep, Music is THAT important.

Mike Kailing
9 years ago

Anointed music praising my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, lifts my spirit to focus on the One who gives life purpose and meaning, takes the burdens off my heart, readjusts my attitudes, removes the “self” focus, and reminds me to forgive and love those who make up the circle of family and friends in my life. As we share each new year here in Hawaii: “Hau’oli Makahiki Hou 2012 – Happy New Year 2012, Jedediah – love your name, too. Much Aloha !

9 years ago

Happy New Year, Jedidiah. Agreed that somebody, somewhere, sometime, has written music that fits any life choice. Personally, I find living in God’s word just as comforting.

9 years ago

A bit of a coincidence that Charles Krauthammer’s latest column contains some reflection on how alone we seem to be in the universe. Perhaps the holiday season easily occasions such pauses, on the mundane versus the cosmic or on the resonance of music with life’s memories and travails.

Well, a Happy New Year to all.

9 years ago

Great way to wrap up the year an.d ring in the new year.
Yes, music speaks to the heart.
God bless you in your future endeavors.

9 years ago

So true. Have a great 2012. Enjoy all of your artcles. Thank you.

David Walker
9 years ago

Its remarkable how we can find it in music, Jedediah. All the best for you in 2012!

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