hath charms to soothe the savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak,
so said William Congreve several centuries ago.
I hear people use that
quote from time to time except they usually say beast instead of breast. Has anyone
else noticed that? Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast. Maybe it could
work, but I don’t think I’d want to depend on it if a savage beast were approaching
me. I will stay in my car when I drive through wild animal parks, which is about
the only place I encounter beasts, savage or otherwise, these days. Unless we
can count the angry drivers we sometimes meet on the freeway. Now that I think
of it, their breasts could use a bit of soothing but I don’t think I will engage
with them long enough to tell them.
I find music that I enjoy is actually
like a soothing balm for my soul. So the first part of William Congreve’s quote
holds true for me at least. But I don’t know about softening rocks and bending
knotted oaks. That sounds more like the music I don’t like. Music I don’t like
gets on my nerves something awful and makes me irritable if I must be exposed
to it for more than a short chorus or two. Far too much of the music I hear today
does that to me. It is not soothing to beast or breast. Nor was it, I suspect,
ever intended to be.
Up-tempo music lends me it energy. A tarantella,
bebop or bluegrass, and four part harmony of the southern gospel of my youth,
can lift me up and get my blood circulating and humming like a finely tuned engine.
I like to keep some of that music in my car to keep me awake on long drives. There
are some writers I listen to because of what they say and not so much how they
say it. But I am always attracted to beautiful melodies played on acoustic instruments,
most often stringed acoustic instruments such as guitar, violin, harp. I also
like a sax or trumpet especially when Doc Severinson or Louis Armstrong is playing.
I also like harmonicas and penny whistles.
children are not interested in melody much. They like a loud, strong rhythm that
can shake the putty out of the windows. Add (what to my ear is) discordant, jarring,
screeching guitar chords and a synthesizer, throw in some shouted words or phrases,
preferably the same words or phrases repeated over and over, turn the volume one
notch below permanent hearing loss, and they are happy.
Before my youngest
son was old enough to get his driver’s license and I was the neighborhood chauffeur,
a fate that befalls most women who choose not to work outside the home, I would
be driving him and his friends somewhere and they would be playing wrestling games
in the back seat. When they got so rowdy it became a driving distraction, like
when the car was actually bouncing from side to side, I would ask them to settle
down and sit quietly. This was usually met with half suppressed snickers and within
a few minutes the wrestling would begin again. When their athletics seemed in
danger of bouncing us into neighboring traffic lanes I would yell, “Settle down
or I’m putting the radio on an easy listening station.”
That threat usually
got them to sit still with no wrestling, punching or giggling for a mile or two.
I thought it worked so well because the kids were cool enough to appreciate my
sense of humor. But perhaps it really was about the music. I read about a young
man charged with disturbing the peace because he drove a car with those big-as-a-dog-house
speakers turned up full blast. I’m sure you have heard those speakers with bass
notes that vibrate the windows in your house when they pass down your street.
The judge sentenced this young man to a specified number of hours listening to
"good” music. I suppose, being the judge meant he could decide what “good” music
is. I like to think it was the sort of music I like—the kind that sooths savage
breasts without riling savage beasts overmuch.