Patsy Cline, Roy Orbison, Sam Cooke. My new Pandora station has been helping to keep me sane. I should be depending on the Lord for that, but I ask you: who else could have made Patsy Cline? Music always makes me think of colors, and Patsy is a deep, breathless blue, like a summer sky at midnight.
Thank God for Pandora, too, because all of my old music is so saturated in memories that I can hardly listen to it. You know how it is: just a few measures and you are back in another era of life, with all the joys and anxieties you felt then. Passing my fingers through my CD collection turns my hand into a geiger counter.
Amy Winehouse takes me back to the coffee shop, grading papers and cursing the recalcitrant hides of my beloved, thickheaded students. Espinoza Paz puts me in the car, driving through Phoenix’ summer blaze, like a fly looking for somewhere to settle and something cool to drink. Beirut’s Slavic wailings and anachronistic trumpets bring me back to a Colorado mountain range, on a solo road trip to from Phoenix to Boulder, melancholy and anticipatory: always traveling, never arriving.
Classical music doesn’t have the same effect. Does that speak well for classical and ill for pop, or are they just two different beasts? When I hear Bartok’s 4th string quartet, I don’t think of the first time I heard it; I can’t even remember the first time I heard it, any more than I can remember the first time I saw the moon. I know Bach’s 5th English Suite like I know the road home; I can hum the melody and even the counterpoint (is there any difference in Bach?) without thinking, but somehow it remains what it has always been, the same inexorable mapping of unseen mysteries.
Lewis calls God so masculine that we are all feminine in relation to Him.1 Maybe the same is true, or can be true, of music. Pop is receptive: it succeeds insofar as it provides us with a vessel that conforms to the contours of our own personalities, something to be filled with the parts of us that we can’t contain. But classical music fills us, penetrates us, rather than the other way around.
Bach and Bartok are impervious to me and my memories. God bless them both.