Music Saved My Soul

This past Sunday night, 60 Minutes did a story on a gospel music program in Harlem called Gospel for Teens. Vy Higginsen started the group five years ago as a way to teach the art of singing gospel music to teens from 13-19. The teens have to go through auditions to get into the group, but they accept a large number of the kids and keep it free to encourage kids to try-out. During the story, you see & hear these beautiful voices come together with power and grace, but you also learn of the struggles that some of the children face in their lives, most of which are unknown to Higginsen until the latter part of the program. At one point, Higginsen asked all the teens to raise their hand if they had lost a loved one recently. Most of the kids raised their hands and began sharing stories of how they lost loved ones who were still in their youth to street violence. It wasn’t isolated to those in rough neighborhoods or single-parent homes either. One of the teens, who seemed very detached and aloof during the entire program, later revealed that her attitude was a response to her parents’ neglect. She took her pain with her to rehearsals so she could sing it out. All these kids were dealing with stress, fear, and rejection not just from the outside world, but in their own households as well. But the music and the atmosphere created by the Gospel for Teens program was a place of serenity for them.

Music was their strength. Singing was their peace.

The story really resonated with me because, just like those kids, music isn’t just music to me. Singing isn’t just singing. They aren’t just entertainment. They’re my therapy. My heart skips a beat when I hear a choir crescendo in harmony. I get chills when I hear a drummer flip the fuck out on his drums. I wince when I hear a guitar cry. I melt when I hear a soloist passionately ad-libbing. I can’t tell you how many times music and singing have been like a therapist, psychiatrist, and whatever Dr. Phil is. Baxter Music knows how to cut to the core of me. There’s a peace when I sing that I couldn’t explain to you. A feeling that words can’t accurately describe. The thing is, I would never call myself a connoisseur of music. I don’t always care about the underlying meaning of a song or its lyrics. I can’t read sheet music or play an instrument. And I don’t have an intimate knowledge of the societal impact that certain artists and periods of music have had. It’s a lot simpler than that for me. I just love being in the presence of music.

There have been days when I’ve felt discouraged. Not good enough. Not smart enough. Loved ones pulling away. Opportunities disappearing at every turn. But when I sing to some Fred Hammond, Israel & New Breed, Kirk Franklin, Marvin Sapp, or Jonathan Nelson, I feel lighter. I’m not carrying as much weight on my shoulders.

There have been days when I’ve felt angry. Upset at a situation or person. Ready to scream or throw something or use the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart technique on them. But when I play some Linkin Park, Rage Against The Machine, or System of a Down, I channel my aggression into the songs. I rock my head to the sounds of the distorted guitar and bass drum until my hostility is subdued.

There have been days where I’ve felt overwhelmed. So much work. So much studying. So much time and so little to do. (Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it.) But when I play some Coldplay, John Mayer, The Fray, Kings of Leon, Esperanza Spaulding, John Coltrane, or Miles Davis, I start to mellow out. Life slows down a little and I can relax long enough to breathe.

There have been days where I’ve felt scared and intimidated. Psyching myself out before the fight even begins. But when I play some Kanye, J. Cole, Common, The Roots, Lupe, Rick Ross, or Jay-Z, I get a little pep in my step. A little more swagga in my style.

There have been days where I’ve felt guarded and untrusting. Convincing myself to stay closed and to not be vulnerable. But when I sing some D’Angelo, The Foreign Exchange, John Legend, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, or Corinne Bailey Rae, I feel an urge to take the walls down. To love without boarders and without fear.

Music and singing continue to be a place of strength and peace for me1, just like it is for the students in the Gospel for Teens program. What about you? What activity/hobby in your life saves your soul? Is it working out? Is it reading? Prayer? Cooking? What do you consistently go to when you need therapy or to release some negative emotions? Just let your soul glo glow.


1Except for the next 17 days since I gave up listening to music for Lent *playground slides*


22 thoughts on “Music Saved My Soul

  1. Dope post TDA!

    I totally agree with you about music. My listening choices reflect my mood and the right song at the right time only makes me feel better or amplifies my mood. I can’t sing worth a damn but I will go in on a song if I catch that feeling. When that feeling is caught all is right with the world.

    Writing saves my soul. If I’m at my lowest point I will pick up a pen or take to the keyboard and let it all out. At my lowest points of depression I wrote about what was going on between my ears and just for a short while I felt okay. I’ll write (albeit badly) fiction with characters that I think are unique. When I think I’m done I’ll go back and read what I put down and sneer arrogantly like “I just did that.”

    So that’s what I go with when I need upliftment. Hell, if the right song comes on when I’m writing then it’s on for real. Again dope post!

    • I know what you mean about writing. I used to write poetry back in high school (I think every socially awkward high school male tries to write poetry at some point) and I thought it was great. For a good three years, that was my outlet. Then it lost it’s luster and I realized I sucked at it. I can’t remember which came first lol.

  2. Fantastic post TDA, welcome back! 😉

    We are >>here<< I love music, no I LURVE music! But I appreciate it for what it is, what it says to me, how it makes me feel. I don't dissect every line (usually), I don't research the artists bio – I let it do what it does to me, I love it, and I let it go. A lot of hard core music stans look down on my love affair with music because I can't tell you what year A-Ha was on the top of the charts, but I can sure tell you how the songs make me feel. Where I was and what I was doing and whom I fell in love with when I first heard India Arie's Acoustic Soul. I can tell you that when I went through the hardest break of my life, that music was there for me, comforting me, assuring me that I'm not the first or the last to experience this life changing heart break. I can let you know who I think of every time I hear Kem's Love Calls or Nothing Left to Say (Mint Condition?). That I will forever think of my NHS trip and leaving for college when I hear Closing Time – nope don't know who sang it, but I can sing every word and more importantly, feel every feeling.

    Music lifts me up, music wraps it's chords around me and lets my cry with no judgment, music makes me wanna move and doesn't mind if I get a lil grimy with it, music keeps me company when I feel alone or lost, music was a source of accolades growing up, music says what I need to say when I can't say it myself, music reminds how great our God is when I push Him to the side. Music is my road dog.

    Thank you for this post, you touched me. No Eddie Long.

    • “But I appreciate it for what it is, what it says to me, how it makes me feel. I don’t dissect every line (usually), I don’t research the artists bio – I let it do what it does to me, I love it, and I let it go.”

      Yup, I’m with you 110%. I’ve definitely gone out and searched for info like that and even clowned people who didn’t know it, but in general I’m not a stickler for those kinds of details.

  3. this was a really good post!

    I believe the day I decided to get baptised was because of the musical selection at church (I was 16 years old). I had been thinking about it for some time (having attended church on and off again most of my life) but I made up my mind for some reason. The music ministry at a church home is important to me–as well as the message, because I FEEL music and to be honest music is a huge part of my initial relationship with God.

    I am indeed a lyrics person so even with secular music, if the words move me, I am locked in. I research music for my own knowledge and to further enhance my passion. tis why I started my blog just to talk about music I love with other music lovers. I have never played any instruments but I do think I have an ear for how things sound. I WISH I COULD SING! I’d sing all the time– I mean I do now, but for other people to hear and enjoy. its such a wonderful gift.

    I write, I read, I listen to music, I cook, I dance, I work out, I embrace nature & I feel. anything that allows me to feel saves me.

    • “The music ministry at a church home is important to me”

      YUP! I feel God’s power and grace when I hear some gospel. Especially when it’s live. It’s enough to make my knees shake. Hell, God speaks me to through secular music too.

      “I’d sing all the time– I mean I do now, but for other people to hear and enjoy.”

      LOL! Hey, I don’t think you sound bad. We had the harmony going on Saturday lol.

  4. Great post, guy. I haven’t met one person in my life that doesn’t like music ( I’ve met some that doesn’t like my kind of music). But there is something about hearing music live. I went to the Melaine Fiona and Marsha Ambrosius concert last night and I’m still on could nine. Being able to hear someone perform their talent (very well) because it is their passion and they have fun doing it is a blessing from God.

  5. WOW, this post was dope. It spoke — er — sung to me. Good look, TDA.

    I definitely feel that way about music, but I feel it even more with writing. With film. And hey, with film, music can serve a great impact as well. There is nothing more soothing to me than a perfect soundtrack over a dope scene. Watching the cinematography dance across the screen, hearing actors perfectly deliver a well-written line… all that speaks to my soul. Takes me to another place.

    And don’t even get me started on when I’m writing a film of my own… See? I’m gone…

    *wistful sigh*

    • “There is nothing more soothing to me than a perfect soundtrack over a dope scene.”

      Yassss! The actors and how well they deliver their lines are just as important to me as the music in the scene. Seeing the hero’s wife die? Not emotional. Seeing the hero’s wife die while violins and a grand piano is playing in the background? *sobs uncontrollably* And I love listening to movie scores. John Williams & Hans Zimmer are my favorites.

      Movies are incredibly complex. Lots of different layers to them that make a huge impact, most of which I don’t even notice. I just see the camera pan slightly to the left, but you see the camera focusing on the glimmer in the baby’s eyes signifying the future that will be affected by the main character’s recent decision to change his tires.

      • YES @ the movie scores. Williams and Zimmer are definitely notables and they stay winning. I’d even add Clint Eastwood to the mix. He truly surprised me when I first heard he composed scores (for several of his own films as well as others). Talented guy all around and pretty versatile.

          • Yup! I believe he did work in Mystic River, Bridges of Madison County (the theme for this movie is one of my favorites), and Gran Torino, Million Dollar Baby to name a few. Also did some for Changeling, Hereafter, Grace is Gone, etc. Homeboy is super versatile. I was all “O_O” (aka “you”) when I learned this snarling Dirty Harry mofo was writing such beautiful and emotion-ridden music.

  6. I loved this post, (ex-Songmate, urr uhhh, I mean…) Berook.

    I can relate so much to this post. Music does the same thing for me, but to answer your question, cooking helps me to relax, relate, and release…LOL. It’s just something about cooking up a hearty meal of my favorite comfort food (and snugglin’ up to a piece of homemade fried chicken, collard greens, red beans, and rice, and cornbread…LOL) that makes me block out my stress from the day or the serious life decisions that I have to make. When I cook, I turn on my music, dance by myself in the kitchen and zone out. When I feel out of control, I cook. When I’m bored, I cook. (When I’m ravenous, I cook). When I’m stressed, I cook. It’s so cathartic chopping, dicing, and filleting veggies and meat. I can’t quite describe it. And to know that I am about to indulge in something that I MADE…whew…It feels awesome. So yea, cooking saves my soul. Big time. Especially because I’m a poor grad student. Eating out at restaurants isn’t an option many times, so I’ve learned how to make most dishes I like to eat at my fav. spots. 🙂

  7. Music saves my soul. I love making music, I love listening to it, I love singing, I love talking about it with people. I don’t mean talking about a song I heard on the radio. I mean talking about the sounds, the techniques used, laughing with someone about people who don’t have perfect pitch. *sigh* Damn I’m more alone than I thought.

    My other activity is blogging/writing. I can’t talk enough about it.


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