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Music that evokes an emotional response

From a Facebook group post today:

Name a specific musical artist, for whatever reason, that is always able to draw a visceral emotional response from you. And if you’re comfortable, share the reason why!

Rather than respond just on that Facebook group, I thought I’d post here, both because a few more people would read it, and because it’s just the sort of music nerd thing that I will want to answer with my own spin. In this particular case I’m going to give at least three answers, just because I can.

First I’m going to go back to high school and pick the first piece of classical music I really fell head-over-heels in love with: Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto. It really clicked in order for me – first the lovely first movement (especially the slow theme in Eb major), then the slow middle movement, then the big theme of the third movement which is first introduced as a slow piano solo in Bb major, and is then driven home as the big finale. Such fantastic stuff. Grabs me every time. I bought a score of the concerto and learned all the easy piano parts, but never managed to work up all the fast nasty parts.

I have several recordings of Rach 2, but my favorite is one I just came upon a few years ago: Stephen Hough with the Andrew Litton and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Hough plays it fast and rowdy. I think Sergei himself might approve. Here’s a couple minutes of a live recording that gives you an idea of the quick tempo:

If I move on to my adult years, there are a few artists whose music has resonated with me like no other.

My nostalgia pick is Rich Mullins; I became a fan in high school, played and sang his music repeatedly, spent a couple days in shock when he died, and continue to count him as a huge influence on my own musical instincts. The song of his that gets a reaction now is one that I didn’t necessarily love as much as a kid, but that resonates hugely now as an adult.

My folks, they were always the first family to arrive
with seven people jammed into a car that seated five
there was one bathroom to bathe and shave in
six of us stood in line
Hot water for only three, but we all did just fine

Talk about your miracles, talk about your faith
My dad, he could make things grow out of Indiana clay
Mom could make a gourmet meal out of just cornbread and beans
And they learned to give faith hands and feet
And somehow gave it wings

My dad was a piano tuner from Nebraska, not a farmer from Indiana, but outside of that… this is pretty easily the story of my family. I almost never get through it with dry eyes.

Later on I’d point to the music of Andrew Osenga (“Early in the Morning” and “Swing Wide the Glimmering Gates”) and Andrew Peterson (whose Behold the Lamb of God is, in my book, one of the few perfect Christian albums ever).

The first song that comes to mind from lately, though, is “Wait for It” from Hamilton. (Yeah, I’m talking about Hamilton again. Deal with it.)

In a recent interview with the Hamilton cast, Leslie Odom Jr. (who plays Aaron Burr) as his favorite – the moment of tension and focus in the production that ropes the audience in. It’s tough to perform, but when it’s right, it’s amazing. It’s a beautiful song, and the lyrics of the chorus elicit a response from me every time. In it, Aaron Burr reflects on the challenges and losses in his own life:

Life doesn’t discriminate
Between the sinners and the saints
It takes, and it takes, and it takes
And we keep living anyway
We rise, and we fall, and we break,
And we make our mistakes
And if there’s a reason I’m still alive
When so many around me have died
I’m willing to wait for it

There’s a desperation and intensity to Burr’s cry in this song that grabs me hard – the desire for real meaning, the joy and the pain of life… man oh man.

So there you go, songs that provoke a visceral reaction from me. Do you have any of your own?

One Comment

  1. Love this post. Some of my most visceral reactions to music are tied to moments. I can remember where I was and how I felt when I heard that song. Like when I saw U2 in concert and they played “Where The Streets Have No Name” just a couple of months after 9/11. I remember this moment at the last Cornerstone Festival at the The Violet Burning concert (from 50:30 to 1:01:30) https://youtu.be/_CYXDDon0Os?t=50m24s when I had the profound sense of loss that “I will never experience this with these people ever again.”

    I remember one year I went running at sunset on Summer Solstice and “The Resistance” by Anberlin played on the iPod https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mLMg1MiM1B0 and I felt like I could rip a telephone book in half at that moment. Those kinds of things stick with you.

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