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Soul Searching

Tom Saretsky


Music, the language of the soul, is a gift from God

Whenever you listen to music on the radio, or on iTunes, or on CDs, or in any venue where music is played, the composer of the song, or the player of the song, owes their talent to someone who encouraged them to pick up an instrument and play. Maybe it was a parent who believed their son or daughter would benefit from taking music lessons. Perhaps the person needed an outlet for expression, and felt music was the best way to achieve it.

Melodies and harmonies have an impact on us in a way that begs for a response. It could be toe-tapping, humming or singing along, or simply smiling because we like the song. When you see people walking around with ear buds attached to their ears or headphones covering their ears, and their heads sway to the beat of whatever they’re listening to, you know they are appreciating the music that is engaging them. 

Music is the language of the soul, a language that is able to express what words cannot. Music has the ability to penetrate the brain in ways no other sensory perception can. It has been proven that music heals, music enhances intelligence and learning, music improves memory, concentration and attention, and physical and athletic performance. Music even fights fatigue — it calms, relaxes, and reduces stress. The therapeutic benefits of music are unmistakable. That is why it is a societal tragedy when music and arts education programs continue to be cut in schools.

Music elevates mood and helps to alleviate depression. Music’s ability to “heal the soul” is the stuff of legend in every culture. Music lifts one’s spirits because of its psychotherapeutic benefits — bright, cheerful music is the most obvious prescription for black and grey moods. Notice I didn’t include blue moods, because the blues is a musical art form in itself. When you’re into music, then blues is what you might want to hear!

Music was a non-negotiable in our household when I was growing up. My mom was the church organist for over 50 years, and her piano playing was legendary. Mom played beautifully, and she seemed to have an endless repertoire of music stored in her memory. Mom always found it somewhat amusing that accomplished pianists would be helpless if called upon to play O Canada or Happy Birthday without the sheet music when she could do it so effortlessly.

All of us kids were involved in music in one way or another. We couldn’t help it: music was always playing in the house. If Mom wasn’t practising for Sunday mass, she might be rehearsing for an upcoming wedding with an “I-don’t-need-to-practice” soloist. Those sessions were always entertaining. My sister Maureen or I would be making mistake-riddled attempts at learning new piano pieces, and my brother Terry might be blowing on his trombone or Gerard strumming his guitar. Dad was always playing his wide collection of big band records, jazz records, and classical recordings. In the summer we were treated to his collection of 45s that played constantly through speakers wired to the back yard while he grilled steaks on the barbecue. Dad exposed all of us to a wide range of music and we always anticipated what record he might bring back from Saskatoon — a stop at the record store on 2nd Ave. was a must. To this day those “songs on 45” still resonate with all of us. We’ve introduced them to our own children, and it has helped to shape their musical influences.

I am thankful my parents gave me the gift of music and applaud all parents who instil in their children a love for music and a dedication to support their children to learn the language of a musical instrument, whether it’s something they strum, pound, “tickle,” blow, or pluck. I also applaud teachers of music for their dedication in helping kids learn the musical language. Teachers of music really rock!

As is written in a German opera house, “Bach gave us God’s word, Mozart gave us God’s laughter, Beethoven gave us God’s fire and God gave us music that we might pray without words.” Music is a reminder of the vitality and power of God’s Spirit. God’s Spirit, God’s music, is infused in everything. May musicians, singers, dancers, instrumentalists, directors, and teachers continue to play, sing, teach and dance in order to give everyone a sense of God’s presence in the music and in those who play and perform it. Through you, we are given the ability to pray without words.

Saretsky is a teacher and chaplain at Holy Cross High School in Saskatoon. He and his wife, Norma, have two children, Nathan and Jenna.