Have you ever heard a song that just clicked with you? Having some involuntary bodily response to the chords or lyrics, feeling like you may have ascended to some other musical realm? I’m not talking about the gagging feeling you might get when you hear “CoCo” by O.T. Genasis, I’m talking about something real. For a moment, think back to a time when a song gave you goosebumps, brought tears to your eyes or brought forth the feeling of a rock in your stomach. Band songs, musical songs and even popular songs on your iPod can trigger these responses. I talked with Chelsea Zabel, a senior psychology major, about some of the songs that gave her chills.
Two of the songs were from musicals: “Till We Reach That Day” from “Ragtime” and “One Day More” from “Les Miserables.” “Ragtime” is about three families from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds in New York City at the turn of the 20th century, while “Les Miserable” is a story following an ex-convict as he tries to do good despite tensions between the French government and people in 19th-century France.
For both, the end of Act I is closed by its respective song, one immediately after a war uprising and the other after *SPOILER* the death of a main character. Tensions have risen in both plots, and both songs are calls to justice in response to recent events. Zabel describes the point in the show when you are “pre-invested in the storyline,” forming connections with the plot and the characters. Each song starts with pain from a single voice. But strength begins to grow when it starts building with other singers.
“It starts when you’re already on edge, then it just fills out to where you can’t think about anything else because there is just so much going on,” Zabel said. “You’re just inside of the music.”
The point of a good musical is to envelop you and transport you to that time and that scene. Music is there to bridge the connection between the audience member and the actors, portraying not just the plot, but the emotions as well.
Now think about a time when you created something amazing. Whether you built it at MHacks, in a wood shop with your hands, in the kitchen or with an instrument, you were proud, right? You put in the time, effort and elements that you knew needed to be a part of the final product. I immediately think to “Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral” by Richard Wagner. A percussionist in high school, I played timpani for this song. After months of practice, I had not thought much about “Elsa” and let it go (pun intended) with the other songs to the back of my mind. But come concert time, performance ready and played with perfection, the song immediately caused me tears and chills. It was beautiful; we had worked so hard to create such a beautiful piece. Building slowly, the processional becomes more robust with emotion and volume. Even listening to it as I write this, I am taken back to that exact concert.
How about popular songs? You may have heard it a thousand times on the radio when it was nauseatingly repeated, or some oldie but goodie when iTunes was on shuffle. But was there a time when it meant something different? Zabel remembers a time in sixth grade when the song “The Middle” came on by Jimmy Eat World. As she had heard it before, this song spoke to the (then) insecure, middle-school Chelsea. Making her cry, she said she felt relieved because “the song was telling me ‘… everything was going to be alright, alright. Doin’ better on your own, so don’t buy in.’ Oh my gosh, it’s speaking to me!”
Those days when certain songs don’t just go from one earbud to the other, but actually sit in your brain and make you think and react; those are the days when you actually hear the lyrics.
So here’s what you do now. Go to YouTube and listen to these songs, think about how you’re feeling while listening to it. Listen to the songs a couple times if you have to, see how your body and mind respond. If you remember a song that caused some involuntary response in you, I want to know! Whether it is a T-Swift song or some piece you played in middle-school jazz band, one day it might arise and spark some reaction inside of you.
Sara Shamaskin can be reached at email@example.com.