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  • ellenwohl712

SNAP! Music Opens an Escape Hatch

While Jack was recuperating from painful surgery, he wanted no visitors. The two of us were alone in the house. Isolation wasn't an ideal situation, but there I was, alone with my thoughts. The days were running together, closing in on us. Self-pity had a way of creeping through the doors and windows. Staring at the four walls, I began to notice things that needed cleaning, dust bunnies under the end tables, drips on the hardwood floor, and crud clouding my "chotzkes"


Having nothing else to do, I pop in my earbuds and begin cleaning out cobwebs that have accumulated in obscure corners around the house and maybe in the obscure corners of my mind.

Jack looks at me strangely.

“What are you listening to?”

“Show tunes. Why?”

“Because you have the biggest smile on your face.”

Maybe it was my years in the theater that inspired my love of show tunes. The kids tease me that I break into song at the mere mention of a word. But I had never realized that show tunes physically put a smile on my face until Jack pointed it out. With this new awareness, I have one more line of defense while caring for Jack as he recovers from one surgery or prepares for another.

Music makes me happy. If I’m overwhelmed with bad feelings, a great song can break up the tension and unravel the thoughts that are strangling me. I feel resilient and capable of getting through tough times.

When I’m singing, usually at the top of my voice, Jack knows exactly where I am and what I’m doing. Besides producing dopamine, for me belting showstoppers is cathartic. Who knew? Rodgers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter, Kander and Ebb, Sondheim, Gershwin, Bernstein. I shout, “Alexa, play Broadway show tunes!” Welcome to my front-row seat to happiness.

I love going to my friend Ava’s house. She and her husband aren’t particularly musical like some of my other friends. But she always has music playing, and she’s one of the happiest people I know. It doesn’t matter what’s playing, I always welcome the “background music” in their home.

According to research on well-being done in 2019 and published in the academic journal Frontiers in Psychology, “Music has been known to reduce anxiety in young adults and heighten mood and interest in adults. Individuals diagnosed with health conditions gain quality of life, self-awareness, and coping skills not to mention mental well-being.”

Music is so much more enjoyable than a TV blaring in the background. I think everyone has been touched by a special song or a favorite band. The fact is, just hearing a familiar song can disrupt a tense situation. That’s why Jack and I play music in our house most of the time, especially when we have friends over or when we are just sitting down at the kitchen table eating dinner.

We play Pandora favorites depending on the mood. “Boz Scaggs Radio” is a little mellower and includes The Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan.

We like oldies from our high school days so, with the command “Alexa, play songs from 1968,” up comes a great mix.

Out on the patio, we turn on the sweet sound of James Taylor and imagine being at his summer concert at Blossom Music Center.

When I hear the first few notes of a song I love, an escape hatch opens up and sets a memory in motion. My most vivid trip back in time comes from “American Pie.” It brings lunchtime at OSU back to life. I don’t know why, but Don McLean’s epic song played every single day of spring quarter 1972 when my friends and I hit the lunch line. The carefree college atmosphere floods my brain and releases some tension for a few minutes.

In the words of the English novelist George Eliot, “Life seems to go on without effort when I am filled with music.”

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