As a singer and composer, a fiber artist, and a privileged white American, I've spent a large part of my life doing "frivolous" things. We don't need music to survive. We don't (in the modern, post industrial age) need hand-made mittens or hats or sweaters. We don't need movies or ballet or fancy balls or smelly french cheeses. We don't need walks in rose gardens or snow-laden forests or up to the summit of the mountains. We don't need pilgrimages to chalk cliffs or grand canyons or giant waterfalls. We don't even need Target or Home Depot, much as I love them. The basic necessities of life are food, shelter, clothing...but we don't actually need music. To survive, that is.
But to thrive, to lead fulfilling lives, I believe we do need those things. Or we need something like them. Part of what makes us feel complete and worthwhile as human beings, part of our human nature, is the desire to feel wonder and amazement. And each of us fulfills that need with something in our lives. Or else we spend our days miserably searching for that feeling of wonder.
When I was younger I watched friends become completely overwhelmed by religious fervor. I had one friend tell me that music was worthless unless it was for the glorification of god. That statement has stuck with me for over fifteen years. The human voice is a miracle. An accident, or maybe not, of nature. It's a pair of fleshy folds with muscles attached to them that we breathe through to make them vibrate. It allows us to communicate. It allows me to ask my husband to pass the pepper. It allows that one lady to chastise the guy at Jimmy John's when he gets too busy and accidentally puts mayo on her sandwich. It allows my friend to tell his dying father that he loves him one last time. And it allows us to sing, when words just aren't enough. We sing to babies to get them to sleep. We sing to toddlers to get them to stop screaming. We sing to children to teach them. (Why is it so much easier to remember something when you know a song about it?) We listen to the cooooooooolest boybands when we're preteens. Or, if you're a geek like me, we take the final aria from Madama Butterfly to the lipsyncing contest at our grade school. In rural Illinois. In the 80s. Yeah. I'm that girl.
When I witness a particularly powerful performance it makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. My arms get goosepimples. I shiver. Maybe I cry. I am overwhelmed by a feeling of wonder. And a performance could be powerful because of the musician's impeccable technique, but seldom. More often, it is powerful because of the musician's presence. Their communication. Their intention. Their spirit. Their wonder. And their willingness to share that wonder with me.
The human voice is a miracle, but we don't need it in order to survive.
We need it in order to be fully human.