Jack Kerouac once said, “The only truth is music.”
But, to expand on that, I can’t help but think another truth is this: It’s nearly impossible to find someone who doesn’t like music.
There are different kinds of music-listeners. There are those who use it as a companion on the drive home from work; those who take it seriously with classical pieces and operas; and those who use it as an emotional outlet, whether through listening to a favorite song or writing one of their own.
I think, deep down, everyone listens to music in all of those ways. For example, we all have those certain “serious” pieces we recognize without a second thought, such as “Thus Spake Zarathustra,” composed by Richard Strauss. (Despite the tongue-twister of a title, it’s music we all know. It’s the “da da da dada” music in “2001: A Space Odyssey.”)
And who doesn’t have a certain “feel better” song for bad days? (For me, depending on if I’m down or angry, it’s either “Sad Songs (Say So Much)” by Elton John, or “I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty.)
We can’t deny that music of any genre plays an important part in our lives. A song can make a sad scene in a movie heartbreaking, can make a mundane morning suddenly exciting and full of opportunity, and can make any moment idyllic. It is why couples have “our songs,” and why music for the father/daughter dance at a wedding is so painstakingly chosen.
Music expresses something that we can’t. For proof, look no further than Broadway.
Growing up, all of my favorite movies were ones with musical numbers. I had every song from “The Lion King” and “The Little Mermaid” memorized, and I would belt them out at any given opportunity. (Actually, believe it or not, this shy, introverted girl, when she was little, used to “perform” at the mall while waiting for my mom to finish shopping.)
Then as I got older I found other favorites, namely “Grease.” Again, I knew every song, and I would dance around my room to favorites like “Summer Nights” and “You’re the One that I Want.”
And then I went to college and took a few theater classes and my eyes were opened to a world of musicals that were not only fun, but also had subtle social commentary.
One of my favorites, which I was fortunate enough to see live, is “Wicked,” a retelling of “The Wizard of Oz.”
The musical depicts the unlikely friendship of the green-skinned outcast Elphaba and Galinda, her beautiful and popular roommate. Through the course of the story, Elphaba becomes the Wicked Witch and Galinda becomes Glinda the Good Witch.
“Defying Gravity” is the song everyone identifies with “Wicked.” Somehow, singing about breaking free means more than just saying it.
The same is true of the incredibly popular song “Let it Go” from Disney’s animated film “Frozen.”
There’s an innate emotion that comes with singing, a power that comes from having to use all of one’s breath and energy to reach and hold notes. Music can be poetic and raw, theatrical and strangely down to earth.
Personally, I know every time I hear a particularly powerful song from a musical, some unknowable thing inside of me feels like it’s been raised a little higher.
Of course, some people roll their eyes at musicals. They say such stories look silly, with people bursting into random singing and dancing.
They usually say, “Nobody does that!”
But I had a professor in college who argued that people actually do. And I’ve often wondered what he meant by that. Obviously, we don’t go into a big, rehearsed number while looking for our car keys.
But what I think that professor meant is this: We live with high notes and low, we face each day with harmonies and discords. And, of course, as I’ve already described, so much of our lives is spent listening to music.
It is little wonder that somewhere along the line we created musicals. They are in many ways a better reflection of what it means to be human than anything else. They capture emotions that, without song, would buzz like bees just outside of our reach. And they make audiences feel and understand those emotions, reaching something that, try as I might, I simply can’t describe.
Maybe I should write a song about it.
Oh well, as they sang in the musical “Hairspray” — “You can’t stop the beat!”
Sarah Allen may be reached at 937-402-2571 or on Twitter @SarahAllenHTG.