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