It recently occurred to me that I could have financed the better part of a trip to Europe with the money I have spent on iTunes in the last seven years. A single here, an album there, and 478 purchased songs later, I have built up a library of music that inspires and motivates me every day. Music, for me, is truly one of life’s greatest treasures. It evokes some of the most powerful emotions we can feel as human beings and makes time travel possible. It never ceases to amaze me how hearing a song can instantly transport me back to a particular time in my life and stir up emotions that I haven’t felt in a long time, for better or for worse. Music gives me hope, brings me comfort, and most of all, reassures me that even in this crazy world, people can still find common ground. A life without music is a life I would not want to live.
A wise friend of mine once told me that music is an avenue for artists to communicate to “normal” folks like us that they have been in our shoes, that they have felt what we have felt. They have experienced happiness and loss, confusion and sorrow; they have had hope in the most hopeless of situations; and they, too, have had their hearts broken. They speak to us with their music, reminding us that they are human just like we are, and we listen. And then we listen again. And then we feel less alone, knowing someone else has been there too.
Last October, I had the great fortune of being able to see one of my favorite singers, Brandi Carlile, perform live here in Des Moines. Aside from thoroughly enjoying what was one of the best performances I had ever experienced, I had the rare opportunity after the show to meet Ms. Carlile and tell her, face to face, the impact her music has had on me, and how it has gotten me through some really rough days. I told her more specifically what I meant by that, and she said to me: “I know what that’s like. I’ve been there.” Then she gave me a hug. It was a moment I will always cherish, less because I got to meet my favorite singer/songwriter, and more because I was able to tell her what her music means to me and then hear from her that she could relate to me. I told her how I felt, and she got it.
Music has always moved me and been a huge part of my life. From Bon Jovi to the Dixie Chicks, Karen Carpenter to Eminem, and Smokey Robinson to The Shins, just about every genre of music has made its way onto my iPod. I started playing the piano when I was nine, the trumpet at twelve, and the guitar at twenty-three. Post-college apartment living is not very conducive to playing the trumpet, but I have moved the piano my parents bought me for my sixteenth birthday from home to home over the last several years and I play my guitar nearly every day. Creating music is as enjoyable for me as listening to it. It’s a part of me, just like running is. The joy I experience in learning a new song or even a new chord is comparable to running a personal best or conquering a hill.
My friends ask me whether I listen to music when I run. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. It typically depends on the type of run, my mood, and whether I need a little extra motivation. There are certain songs that I will always associate with running. For instance, hearing Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Have You Ever Seen the Rain? will forever remind me of my high school cross country meets, while Snow Patrol’s Chasing Cars takes me back to Ironman Wisconsin in 2009 because it is the last song I remember hearing before entering Lake Monona at the start of the race.
Lately, I have been turning to the vocal stylings of artists like David Gray, The Flaming Lips, The Fray, and of course Brandi Carlile as I head out the door for my run most mornings. I concentrate on their words to find strength on days when I feel weak and to psych myself up for a hard effort. Their music lifts me up and helps me remember the beauty of life when my outlook is bleak. I stow away parts of these songs in my head so that I can recall them later and remind myself that the person who wrote them has been where I’ve been.
Thank you for reading!