Friday, August 14, 2015

The Power of Music

Thought for the day:  ♪♫ Wild thing, you make my heart sing... ♪♫
[courtesy of Helmut Kraus]

Music is a lot more than a melodious string of notes. At its best, it has the power to transport us, to rekindle memories, to uplift us, and to fill our souls. It can connect us to other people and to special moments in time, and can often communicate feelings far better than words alone. As I'm about to show you, music also has the power to transform lives.

Some of you may remember the post I wrote a couple years ago about a remarkable group of young musicians, which originally ran with the title The Sounds of Hope. For those of you who missed it the first time around, or simply don't remember it, I'm gonna  run the original post again in its entirety. Then I'll give y'all a brief update about this group, and will share a new video that shows, once again, just how amazing the powers of music can be. (For those of you who do remember it from the last time around, feel free to say blah, blah, blah as you skip down to the update.)


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Thought for the day:  Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.  [Plato]

You're never too old ... or too young... to enjoy music.

The enjoyment of music respects no boundaries; it's pretty much universal. No age limit, either. Even newborn infants respond to music, and most of us continue to respond to it until we draw our very last breath.


Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.  [Confucius]

It can be uplifting, rousing, soothing, sublime, or profane, and has the uncanny ability to reach inside our hearts to touch us on a primal level.  As Leo Tolstoy said, Music is the shorthand of emotion.

Remember the song My Way? Written by Paul Anka, and originally performed by Frank Sinatra, it was an okay song. Not the best, not the worst, but in the hands of violinist Andre Rieu, this ordinary tune becomes sublime:



No doubt, Mr. Rieu is a talented musician who makes magnificent sounds come out of that priceless instrument of his. My guess is he came from a comfortable background and benefited from a good education. Maybe a private tutor and top-notch music teachers. Perhaps not, but that's my guess.

The question is: How can a child who's mired in abject poverty make music? Time for a story...


Just outside Ascuncion, Paraguay's capital city, lies one of the largest landfills in Latin America. That's also where 25,000 people live in the slum city of Cateura. Day after day, tons of garbage get added to the landfill, and day after day, the men, women, and children of Cateura traverse mountains of garbage, and sift through it for whatever they can salvage. For that is the story of their survival: they eke out a living by recycling garbage from that landfill.

And yet... and yet... orchestral music is alive and well in the slum of Cateura. In the midst of crippling poverty, there are instruments for the children to play... instruments fashioned from salvaged garbage. Empty oil drums become cellos and violins; water pipes and spoons become flutes; packing crates become guitars; and bottle caps, buttons, and spoons turn a pipe into a clarinet. Garbage is transformed into instruments of hope.

                                        Play the music, not the instrument. [unknown origin]

                                                        Care to witness a musical miracle?




Pretty amazing, huh? Favio Chavez, director of Cateura's Landfill Harmonic Orchestra, said, The world sends us garbage. We send back music. And tell ya what, when those youngsters play My Way, the song gains new meaning. Their way, indeed...



                                                                         
Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life. [Berthold Auerbach]

Music is moonlight in the gloomy side of life.  [Jean Paul Richter]

Music in the soul can be heard by the universe. [Lao Tzu]

The whole universe may not hear their music, but thanks to donations from all over the world, these children of hope will be the subject of a documentary next year. They'll also be touring the United States... and playing their unique instruments that were built with garbage, hope, and a lot of love.



Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.  [Martin Luther]

                               
                                                  [Images courtesy of morguefile]

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UPDATE: In March, a 84-minute documentary feature film about this amazing group premiered in Austin, Texas, and since then, it has been shown at many film festivals, and has racked up many awards. Would you like to see a trailer?

This group even has a Facebook page now, in which you can keep track of them, and see where the film will be showing next... and where they're scheduled to be playing next. For the past two years, they've had the honor of playing with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra... and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra had the privilege of playing with them.  In July, these students played for the Pope.

I'd say music has made a profound difference in their lives, wouldn't you?
                                               
And here's the video that prompted me to write this post. Naomi Feil, the founder of Validation Therapy, is trying to communicate with Gladys Wilson, an Alzheimer's patient, who has been virtually non-verbal for the past fifteen years. The focus of Ms. Feil's form of therapy is on what she calls a reciprocated communication of trust. She says it is often possible to communicate with people suffering from cognitive impairments and dementia to a much deeper degree and emotional level than once thought possible. See what happens when she, a Jew, communicates with her patient by singing songs that were once dear to Ms. Wilson's heart. By singing Christian songs...


 May we all be blessed with a friend who knows the song in our hearts, and can sing it back to us if we forget the words. 

                       You don't have to know how to carry a tune to make a joyful noise.
                                Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

64 comments:

  1. Tears here.
    I am largely unmusical, but can recognise miracles.
    And, as an aside, I once spent time with a woman who was grieving for the loss of her husband to dementia. He didn't recognise people, and was largely non-verbal. He did however sing. Loudly, in tune and accurately when he heard a familiar tune.
    It seems to be one of the very last things we lose...

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    1. One good turn deserves another. You brought tears to my eyes, too.

      During my grandmother's final days, my father took a record player and some of her favorite albums of hymns to the hospital, and played them for her, even after she was in a coma. He was sure she could hear them, and it brought her peace. I'm inclined to agree.

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  2. I do remember when you posted this before. Still as good today, thank you!

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  3. It's amazing the things that people find to make music with. It might just be the one thing that can save this world. Music.

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    1. You could be right. Music can unite us as few other things can do. (Depending on the kind of music, that is... music appreciation is so subjective.)

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  4. One doesn't need to be a professional musician (like myself) to realize the potency and the power of music. It indeed transcends age, gender, and social class - - and has the ability to ignite our imaginations and inspire our souls to soar. It exudes a soothing power and has the ability to unite the world with a universal language all its own.

    Hell, I think I've said it all.

    Great post, as always, Susan.

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    1. I had a feeling this post would speak your kinda language. Music is all you say it is and more, and you understand that better than most of us, because you know how to play it from your soul.

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  5. Really wonderful thoughts, music is everything and so much more. A heart warming piece.

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    1. Thanks. I like to warm hearts. (And make 'em sing.)

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  6. Music inspires, music soothes, music makes us smile, music makes us cry but most of all, music makes us connect. You have shown us that beautifully in this post.

    In the last years of my dad's life, he fell into dementia. To bring him back to us for a few minutes, we would sing to him his beloved Irish songs. More times than not, he would join in and with his beautiful tenor voice he would sing When Irish Eyes are Smiling, seldom missing a word.

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    1. How wonderful that you were able to communicate with your father through music. Wonderful for him, and wonderful for you, too, because it left you with some beautiful memories.

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  7. your post plucked the right strings. Music is universal indeed. I'm singing off-key for the whole day! Happy Friday and weekend

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    1. I'm glad the post hit the right notes for ya. Singing off-key is better than not singing at all. Well... sometimes it's better. My college roommate liked to drive me insane by hitting the wrong notes on purpose just to... drive me insane. (I reckon it worked!)

      Happy weekend to you, too!

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  8. Tunes sure stick with us until the very end. Can inspire and connect. Most anything can be found to make music with too, as they proved.

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    1. They sure do. Music has an uncanny way of imprinting itself deep within our brains. (I sure hope the tunes sticking in my head at the end are ones I like...! )

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  9. Goosebumps, literally! I missed your first post, so thanks for sharing again. I will say there were several (3) blank white squares, so I'm not sure if it was art that was meant to go there. The third, fifth and sixth pictures were just white boxes, but all the words showed up. So no problem and the videos worked beautifully! Amazing!

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    1. As hot as it's been, goosebumps could be a refreshing change. :)

      Sorry about that. The blank white squares should be fixed now. (More videos!)

      Happy weekend!

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  10. That is amazing. Music has a way of reaching people like no other medium.It literally saved my life when I was a severely depressed teen. And when I working with children on the autistic spectrum, it was a joy to see kids who wouldn't/couldn't communicate, suddenly dance or try to sing along. Spawn has high functioning aspergers and music for him, (playing in an orchestra, as well as listening) is a way to communicate how he feels when words won't do. Great post.

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    1. I've seen how beautifully some autistic children react to music. It's almost miraculous, and it's definitely a blessing to their parents, too, because it's as though music provides a key to unlock their children's emotions, if only for a little while.

      Thanks.

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  11. What a great article, Susan. You have made my entire day and I thank you for that. The moving story of those kids makes us all think, and to be thankful for all we have. Yesterday I was griping about one of my radios not working right. Learning about these kids makes my own problems fade into the insignificance they deserve.

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  12. Wonderful post, Susan. The instruments made from garbage and the children that play those instruments are amazing. The video of music therapy being used with the Alzheimer's patient is so moving. Music does indeed touch us all.

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    1. Thanks, Daisy. I'm glad the story of those kids and the therapy video touched you as deeply as they did me.

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  13. Great post sweetie!! I love music with all my heart! It always lift me up! ;)

    Diana Bryant
    www.ManhattanImageandStyle.com

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  14. Truly amazing. I've tried and failed on multiple occasions to get into music, however I've just never had the talent. Too wordy, I guess. But it never ceases to amaze the power that music has...

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    1. In today's world, it's arguable as to whether or not some popular musicians have much in the way of natural "talent", but for personal enjoyment? I think all that's needed is that you have fun and make a joyful noise. Too wordy? So sing... :)

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  15. Terrific post as always !
    I have several songs that I put on most morning to start my day with happiness. Did you know there is a channel on the computer that plays "Happy" 24 hours a day ? Everyday people dance to it. So are great other not so much. I play it but don't watch it when I need to really clean the studio !
    But as much as this post was wonderful and the music up lifting...
    I always wonder why the hell if your living in such poverty do you have children. Or why not try to take care of the ones you have better ?
    But that is the big question isn't it.

    cheers, parsnip

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    1. Thanks!

      I am inordinately affected by the music that's playing. (Right now, I'm listening to Beethoven. "Moonlight Sonata" is up now.)

      No, I didn't know about the happy music channel, because the only music I listen to online is from youtube videos. I generally prefer to pick my own CD. (And often play it over and over and over again. Would drive most sane people nuts.)

      I understand what you're saying about living in poverty and having children, but that's the only life those people living in that landfill slum know, and they don't expect the rest of the world to "take care of them." They manage to do that themselves by recycling and selling stuff they find in that landfill. We may be horrified by their standard of living and way of life, but I think they have as much right to fall in love and "do what comes naturally" as the rest of us do.

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    2. Oh I understand what your saying. but in a better world they would not be living in a dump.

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  16. My internet in down today so I can't see your videos but I surely will be back to watch them. I'm pretty much impressed and convinced by your story alone. What an amazing one! I hope children living in that place will have the chance to get a better future just like every kid deserves.

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    1. It's an amazing story, isn't it? Sorry to hear about your internet being down. Bummer. I hope you're able to see those videos later. They're pretty amazing, too.

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    2. Glad I came back to witness those amazing videos you've shared. Gawwd I had goosebumps. My way was fantastic - my late grandpa would've loved hearing it.

      Those kids are so inspiring. Their teacher is such a heaven sent.

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    3. I'm glad you were able to come back to see those videos, too. Without a doubt, they were the best thing about the whole post. :)

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  17. I loved this post when you first wrote it. So glad to see that this wonderful group is still touching hearts.

    As for music and older people who suffer with Alzheimer's and dementia... I find it amazing that music is the ONE thing that can still reach these folks. I remember with my grandma music was the very last thing to go. She couldn't string a sentence together, but when someone started playing the piano and she knew the song, she'd either sing along or hum along (depending upon her state). That just amazes me. I suppose that maybe the answer to continued communication is to start singing it when all else fails!

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    1. I was thrilled to find out their film had been made and they were doing so well, too.

      Yes, it truly is amazing how music can reach the "unreachable," so to speak. Even though my grandmother was in a coma at the end, I believe she heard the hymns that played in her room. She seemed much more peaceful when they were playing.

      If music is the answer to continued communication, maybe we should make all politicians sing instead of argue and give speeches. Got something to say? Say it with a song! Maybe if they were singing, they wouldn't have time to be such horses' patooties.

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  18. I love music and can't imagine life without it. It really does change my mood. If I'm having a bad day or week, I go to Youtube or my own collection and play some of my favorite tunes. When I was younger I wanted to learn the piano and violin, but it never happened.

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  19. It's never too late for you to learn how to play piano or violin. Go for it!

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  20. I remember your post from when you first wrote it, but I read it again, and it gave me goosebumps again. And what a great update about these kids playing with instruments made of garbage all over the world.

    And you are right about music - if I listen to the right kind of music, I can go from grouchy and sad to cheerful and happy in the course of a song!

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    1. Good.I'm glad you enjoyed getting an update on those kids,too.

      I hope your hubby knows which music to play to manipulate... um, I mean improve... your mood. :)

      Happy weekend!

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  21. All so very interesting. You don't have to be wealthy to make music and without music life would be very empty.
    P.S. I am not a fan of Andre Rieu. Too much glitz and glamour. Once heard him play a classical piece and somehow he just doesn't have that kind of talent.

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    1. No, with enough determination, anyone can make some kind of music. (Have you ever seen those "street bands" who use things like garbage can lids to make music?)

      P.S. Really? I don't care anything about the glitz and glamour, but I thought Rieu made that song "My Way" sound extraordinary. Then again, I've never heard him play a more traditional classical piece.

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  22. Engaging post, Susan. Victor Hugo said, "Music expresses that which cannot be confined to words." And he said that in French, which has always sounded like music to me.

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    1. Thanks, dude. Yes, I agree. Anything spoken in French has a musical sound to it. I guess that's why I studied it for so many years, when I should have studied something more practical like Spanish. (Ah well, you know what they say about hindsight...)

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  23. I love how music can bring us together across the world... good music like this touches our heart... I love seeing how people who have nothing always find a way to survive that shows us here that material things matter very little in this world. It's what's in our heart that matters the most. Such a lovely post Susan ♡ xox

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    1. Some people think they must have the very best of everything to make them happy, and those who are happy and grateful for whatever they have, no matter how simple and humble it may be. Although the people in the first group would probably feel sorry for the people in the second group, I have a feeling the second group of people are far happier.

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  24. That's amazing. I can't imagine life without music. I don't play anymore though I can play a few instruments. My granddad who passed away a handful of years ago loved stringed instruments and played many of them. Hearing them always makes me think of him. I think he would have loved these. Thank you for sharing all of them.

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    1. I can't imagine life without music, either. Even if it isn't playing externally, it will continue to play within us.

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  25. Wow, this is truly inspiring! I've heard of this landfill and people and always thought it was a sad story, but learning this about this.. amazing! Very cool!

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  26. This is awesome. I'd not heard of the landfill or the orchestra before, but I am a huge music lover. It's almost always playing here as a way to set the mood, or help with writing, or just to help unwind, etc. I love that you don't have to be rich to enjoy music - whether it's listening or playing. Reminds me of that great scene in Shawshank Redemption when Andy gets out of solitary confinement. They ask him how he didn't go insane, and he tells them he just played music in his head. "That's the beauty of music. They can't take that away from you."

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    1. Cool! I'm glad you heard about it here first. :)

      I've never been in the "big house," but I've always played music in my head to help me tolerate painful things, too. It works.

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  27. "The world sends us garbage. We send back music." Wow, what an amazing and uplifting way in which to respond to the indignity of having your town be a dumping ground for the world's trash.

    As for the power of music, I think it's amazing that I can't remember what I did yesterday, but I can remember the words to songs that came out in the 70's (that I didn't even like, but my mom used to play on the cassette recorder).

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    1. You betcha. That kind of uplifting attitude brings tears to my eyes every time.

      HA! I know what you mean. Music has staying power. For me, the last song I hear has a way of lingering in my head, so I hum and sing it off and on until I hear the next song. Our daughter knew that, and she used to get a kick out of intentionally playing music I disliked just so she could catch me singing it later. (Yeah, she's devious.) The funniest time, though, was when she and I were listening to the Grateful Dead right before I went to the church to do some cleaning. When our pastor came down the hall, he caught me singing, "Riding that train, high on cocaine..." (Not the sorta song we usually sang in the choir!)

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  28. I think it's great that these kids are playing all over the world! Music is a powerful thing.

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    1. It sure is, and you probably know better than most of us. :)

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  29. I remembered this post as I was reading through so it was especially awesome to see the update. Amazing! What a fantastic story. I am tone-deaf and can't carry a tune in a bucket but I LOVE listening to music. It's unites in a way nothing else can.

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    1. I'm glad you appreciated the update. I often wonder what became of people in some of the stories I read.

      Yes, music really is the universal language, isn't it?

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  30. Awesome stuff. I'm actually a composer and my teenage son has started into it recently. I'm in awe. Music is poetry of the soul.

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    1. I'm glad you liked it. Very cool about you being a composer. I've written quite a few songs over the years, too, but they were either simple ballads to sing along with an acoustic guitar, or songs designed to reinforce Sunday lessons I was teaching. Even cooler that your son is getting into composing, too. You must be very proud.

      Yes, music is definitely the poetry of the soul.

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  31. Its so awesome. I'm completely tone deaf and can't sing for the life of me!

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    1. Maybe not, but you can still make a joyful noise!

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