I’ve been trying to post this for awhile and every version wavers between stupid or ridiculously pretentious. I am giving up and sharing it anyway.
Mum used to wonder, when I was a kid, where I got my love for the sad music from. We’re very different, me and Mum – she’s a cheerful soul, through and through. Not that she’s never unhappy – her life’s had its share of grief – but she’s fundamentally an upbeat person.
I’m not unhappy, but I experience the world a different way.
I gravitated to the music in the minor keys, with the haunting refrains; the passionate, the angry, the sad, the quiet mourning. I remember discovering Bela Bartok and Debussy and being thrilled by them. And later, my piano teacher giving me Michael Nyman’s sheet music to The Piano.
Neither she nor my mother had seen the film; I suspect they’d have considered it deeply inappropriate for teenage Emma.
Music was always an outlet for me. A mental exercise, something I could work at and get right. Something that makes me happy. Something that reaches right into my heart and lets me express what I’m feeling.
When I got access to the ‘net, I started acquiring my own sheet music. I remember finding Michael Hsiao (who no longer seems to exist online), and revelling in a series of three songs – Insanity, Rage, and After. My mother always knew when I’d had a bad day at uni – I’d come home and throw myself at the piano, and she’d leave me in peace to work the angry out.
The same applies to the music I listen to. Sometimes I like the sad songs. The ones about heartbreak and loss and grieving, anger and fear and doubt and trouble. In some way, they make me happy.
We’re not encouraged to talk about the hard things. If someone asks “How are you?” they expect “Great!” as a response. Even among friends, it’s hard to say “I’m struggling”. We can’t say we’re sad, we’re upset, we’re depressed, we don’t know what to do. Or even if we do know what to do, and we just need to be allowed to be sad for awhile while we work through it.
I think I like the sad songs because, in order to write them, someone had to live them. They had to experience sadness. They had to say goodbye to a lover, to a friend, to a parent or child. They had to live with fear and stress and depression. And they chose to take that experience, to voice the sadness and make something from it.
So when I gravitate to these songs, it’s not because I want to wallow in sadness. I don’t want to remain upset, hurt, worried, stressed, sad. I gravitate to them because in times of trouble, I’m reminded that it’s possible to take the pain and build something beautiful.