Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness. – Maya Angelou
We read to know that we are not alone – quote credited to C.S. Lewis, from the film “Shadowlands”
Loneliness. For Maya Angelou the antidote to loneliness was music and for C.S. Lewis it was reading. Loneliness – or is aloneness a better word? – is not to be feared, however, but at the same time it’s comforting to know we are not actually alone.
It’s surprising to many people that I, someone who earns her living making music, actually listen to very little music. When questioned about this I might say it’s because I’m very busy, or because I spend all day thinking about music, or because I can’t listen to music casually as just something half-heard in the background. All those reasons are true. But the most completely truthful reason, and the one I have the most difficult time putting into words, is that music takes me to the loneliest places. These are places where emotions are in their purest forms, crystallized to a point where joy is as sharply felt as sorrow.
The radios in my house are all tuned to NPR news, and I was surprised, yet instantly a captive audience, when I turned on the radio a few mornings ago and heard this piece playing. The loneliness I felt was not one of emptiness, tragedy, or even sadness. I think I might describe it as a place of receptivity, of hunger for something indefinable but desirable.
In writing this, I was reminded of the book and film, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. I have an early memory of watching this film with my mother, and of crying over the scene when the young heroine helps a tenant in her family’s home, a man who is deaf-mute, try to understand her love for music by showing him how to conduct a recording she had playing. He couldn’t hear the notes but he could see that the music moved her emotionally and literally, and he wanted to share in that. He joyously conducts (a Beethoven symphony perhaps?), continuing his wild motions even after the recording has finished. That seemed very sad to me as a child. (I can’t remember any more of the story, but have just added the book to my list of things to read.) As an adult, I have a greater appreciation for the role of aloneness in our lives. I suspect that the loneliness of these two characters was also a sign of an inner strength that hungered for something more, something indefinable but desirable.