As renowned neurologist and author Oliver Sacks, who died this week, noted in his book Musicophilia, music has the ability to recover the past. Memories are embedded in music, particularly in songs that you have sung. His work, of course, was with those suffering brain disorders, and his studies with Alzheimer’s patients showed the remarkable power of music to reconnect those people with their personal biographies, as he put it. He pointed out that the parts of the brain associated with music are very close to those associated with memory.
This has been a summer of sounds. My favorite is that of the cicadas and crickets we’re hearing every evening at this time of year. These are not just insect sounds, but an evocation of the colors and nostalgia that late summer calls up in me.
On the other end of the spectrum, this summer included a trip to Buenos Aires, very far from my backyard cicada sounds, where we visited that city’s magnificent opera house, the Teatro Colon. The Argentinians are incredibly proud of this beautiful building, considered to have a perfect acoustic. They love to tell the story of the tenor Luciano Pavarotti’s one complaint about the building’s acoustic…it is too perfect, Pavarotti said, and every mistake will be heard! Hearing music there envelopes you in sound – a full immersion experience.
Singing in the cathedrals of France this summer was another sound of my summer. As I mentioned a few weeks ago in another Daily Cup posting, the choir’s music made those buildings come alive, not only for the singers, but for the audience and any unsuspecting visitors who thought they had come only to see a building rather than to experience it. Hearing a recording from the choir’s tour, the grandmother of one singer was moved to add to a short story she is working on. The sounds of her granddaughter’s voice connected her with a memory of her own father, and with her permission I share the end of her story:
Still, when one of the hymns I remember finds its way into my consciousness, I stop whatever I am doing and listen until the song has ended. Tears are not so far away. My father and those hymns are linked together in my mind.
“He would have been happy about this,” was my thought when my granddaughter Katie, who at fourteen was invited to join the senior choir of her church, St. Alban’s, in Washington, D.C. Washington D.C. is such a long way from Dominion City [Manitoba] but Dmytro Lawrynuik’s great granddaughter, Katie, sings in the fine church choir in this American city.
In 2015 under the direction of Sonya Subbayya Sutton, the choir toured in France singing in several cathedrals. By magic of our electronic world, I listened to all of their concerts. On July 21, the St. Alban’s choir sang in Notre Dame. On their program was “At the River.” One soprano came down a few steps to sing, then another, a third, and then a fourth. The third soprano was my granddaughter. The four young women sang so beautifully, so clearly, I pictured my father with a smile lightening his face, “This is a Roman Catholic cathedral, but my great granddaughter, Katie, is singing there. Truly a joyful noise unto the Lord. Hallelujah!”
Yes we’ll gather by the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river,
Gather with the saints at the river,
That flows by the throne of God,
That flows by the throne of God.
From “A Joyful Noise Unto the Lord” by Lillian Fraser-Reid