Music renews the soul in ways that nothing else can. Music says what words cannot.
A little girl I worked with in therapy was to be moved from one foster home to another over a week-end. She had blossomed under the care she had received where she was and loved her foster mommy and daddy. However, she was clear that she did not want to talk about how she felt on that day before leaving them. As she was rummaging for some of her favorite toys in a closet, she began to sing a haunting tune in her small, beautiful, lyrical voice. When I asked about her song, she told me that this was a “sad song.” Indeed, the wordless lament of this five-year-old child was like the laments the psalmists sang over the millennia.
When I saw her the next time, she had her new foster family, this time with a sister, a brother, and animals. Though at first, she seemed excited and full of words, when I invited her to tell me more about her new family, she again said that she didn’t want to talk. And she didn’t talk. Remembering the week before, I started to sing some questions to her, and soon she began to sing her responses.
“What did you have for breakfast today?” I sang.
“The very best breakfast in the world: waffles and syrup,” she sang back.
“And do you have a new cat?”
“What is your cat’s name?”
“I don’t know.”
“’I-Don’t-Know:’ what a wonderful name for a cat!” And do you have a new dog?”
“What is the dog’s name?”
“I don’t know.”
“How wonderful, you have a cat and a dog and they have the very same name, ‘I-Don’t-Know!’”
After about fifteen minutes of singing back and forth, she sang, “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands.” When we were finished with that, she looked at me quizzically, “You sure know a lot of songs.” “Oh, I sure make up a lot of songs,” I told her. Then we proceeded to make up even more songs together, and a little girl who had no words to say how she felt, could sing her lament and her joy.
Music says what words cannot and renews the soul, even of a child.
A century ago, my grandfather wrote that “under the influence of music, our spirits are stirred to new life, are refreshed and healed. Music is for the spirit. Music and lyric poetry question not at all, but with ordered rhythms and melodies and images of beauty they strike to the quick of life. Rhythm is inherent in poetry and music. It is the result of controlled and directed energy, which in effect steadies and balances the forces of life, brings order out of confusion, turns unrest to peace, doubt to faith, restores and makes whole the perturbed and broken spirit.”
That’s why “I sure make up a lot of songs.”