I've written quite a bit about about the idea of musical resonance. The concept is a simple one: a piece of music moves you to extremes and you're powerless to explain why. A recent example came at a Low Anthem show from this past spring. Me and TheWife™ were just blown away by the event. I don't remember the exact setlist, but the point where my entire being resonated with the music — I like to describe this as "forgetting who I am" — came during "This God Damn House." First attempts at describing this sensation used words like "elation," but it's more than that. What, I'm not sure of.
There is, of course, the opposite concept. You hear some music and you're repulsed by it. Again, the reasons are not often clear, though I have a feeling that emotion is involved. I say this because most of the music that I'm repelled by seems emotionless to me. It seems broken. Yes, these reactions are purely subjective, and point toward something that's difficult to get to. I'm still not there.
Where? It's fair to ask this, but I don't have an answer. Yet.
All of this brings up the emotional reaction that occurs on the positive side of things: when you are so overtaken with positive emotions that the tears cannot be held back. I was never able to understand this when I was a kid. People cried at weddings? Why? Weren't they supposed to be happy? Then I got married, and during that ceremony…I understood.
Still, the mystery sometimes returns when musical resonance spills over. I've come to understand why this happens at, say, a Springsteen show. I've lived with that music for a long time and it brings so many complex emotions to the surface. But the Low Anthem? This was the first time I'd heard them. There's a line in the song…"And don't forget to comb your hair"…when the melody rises and the harmonies soar: and I was instantly overwhelmed. By the time that lonesome sound of whistling via cell phones closed out the song (a great contrast to the E-flat horn, clarinet, and pump organ), the tears ran down my face and I was powerless to stop them.
What was that? And why is it so powerful? Apparently, I'm not alone: check out this reader comment from my previous Low Anthem Friday Morning Listen:
I had the great fortune of seeing these titans of sound play recently. They have my most unreserved adulation. The very fibers of my body seemed to resonate with their deep and rich melodies. I can say without hyperbole that this is the best act I will see in a decade. Driving home after the show I was forced to pull to the side of the road in an attack of emotion so powerful that my eyes became too wet to see. I looked over at my pregnant wife and I could see she was feeling the same thing. Later that night we decided to name our unborn child after their most recent album, Charles for a boy and Darwin for a girl. I am without words.
Yes, without words…that's right.