This week I am grateful for melancholy music. Not for wallowing, but for the cushion it seems to place between my emotions and the cold hard ground.
Music’s ability to aid the feeling and expression of sorrow is amazing. Although ultimately for the worship of God, with the advent of sin, misery and tragedy He allows us to use its great power help us make it through the depths.
In the darkness of my own trials, or when anguished for others like the Tittle family, why would I listen to doleful music when I’m already sad? It’s not for everyone and each of you knows whether or not it helps or hurts. Nor is it for every stage of those emotions. There’s a time and a place. Certainly there are times when any music at all may feel like a mockery to the sufferer of intense grief.
For me, as an avid lover of choral and orchestral music, those are my musical refuge when sadness overwhelms.
Author J.K. Rowling put it this way in one of her books, when after the death of an important character the grieving friends hear a Phoenix singing in the distance, with terrible beauty and an unearthly quality that they felt must be
“their own grief turned magically into song, and it seemed to ease their pain a little to listen to the sound of their mourning.”
To somehow hear my heartache, bound up in a lovely sound, and thereby let go of it teeny tiny bits at a time. The poignancy of certain musical sounds seems to draw the grief out of me like a gentle syringe.
The following pieces are my go-to for such times. Pieces with lyrics that don’t match the specific circumstance of a particular struggle are chosen for the arrangement of the music itself.
- Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” — simple string quartet. Full string section versions are gorgeous as well, but the exposed, raw quality of just the four parts better suits its nature, to me.
- “Agnus Dei” — choral version of the above. Barber chose to set the Agnus Dei text to his haunting melody.
- Eric Whitacre’s “Sleep” — choral.
- Eric Whitacre’s “When David Heard” — choral. A stunning piece representing King David’s grief upon hearing of Absolom’s death. It’s about 15 minutes long and worth every moment.
- Joseph MacKenzie’s “Mansions of the Lord” and end credits of the film We Were Soldiers — choir and orchestra.
- Puccini’s “Crisantemi” — for string orchestra. Written for the funeral procession of a noble.