Dancing on the inside

My husband I spent the weekend at MerleFest, an awesome music festival in the North Carolina foothills with a wide range of music: bluegrass, blues, rock, country, folk, gospel. My back has let me know that it’s not as young as it used to be, and toting around a backpack for four days and sitting on a blanket to listen to music isn’t as acceptable to it as it used to be. Though I still feel quite young, my back is telling me that I can’t sit in front of a computer long today. But I’m so excited about the music I got to hear over the weekend that I have to share it with you.

Music has so many different powers and can evoke such a wide range of emotions. Here are just a few of the ways that music moves me (emotionally and/or physically): Music has so many different powers and can evoke such a wide range of emotions. Here are just a few of the ways that music moves me (emotionally and/or physically):

  • “Bang the Drum Slowly,” sung by Emmylou Harris (written by Guy Clark for Emmylou after her father died) almost always brings tears to my eyes.
  • “Be Still My Soul” is a calming, powerful hymn. There’s a version of it sung by Beth Nielsen Chapman on the “Hands Across the Water” CD – a fundraising CD for the victims of the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia – that I heard and fell in love with a few days before one of my best friend’s daughters died. It calmed me and stopped me in a way I couldn’t understand at the time. But after Kamryn died later that week, the song came back to me to bring a small moment of soothing, a healing breath of God in the midst of such unimaginable grief.
  • I can’t hear “Your Long Journey” without remembering that sweet young girl’s funeral, because the Alison Krauss/Robert Plant version was played there. The song, by the way, was written by Doc and Rosa Lee Watson, whose son Merle’s death is commemorated each year through MerleFest.
  • Bagpipes reach down my throat and grab right for my heart. One of the members of my church’s choir plays bagpipes and occasionally plays “Amazing Grace” after the service ends. Each time surprises me by how choked up I become.
  • I got to hear two favorites over the weekend: Sam Bush Band and Donna the Buffalo. Sam Bush is one of the finest musicians I’ve seen play, an amazing fiddle player and vocalist, but mandolin is where he’s the master. Plus, when he’s on stage, you can see the passion he has for great music, the respect he has for those playing on stage with him, and his genuine love of playing. Donna the Buffalo is similar in their love of playing. Plus, their high-energy tunes beg for you to get up and dance.

I also got to hear Rory Block (a grand-dame of the blues) play a set over the weekend, and during the set, she spoke of her struggle as a young woman playing the blues, back during a time when the blues were considered the music of the devil. She said you had a choice: sing gospel and be considered upright and Godly, or sing the blues and bear the shame that came along with that. But she said she found a way to blend both, and you can hear the mixing of the two in her playing. She said that Son House – one of her great inspirations and an amazing early pioneer in blues – combined both blues and gospel deftly, often stopping in the middle of a song to preach a sermon. House actually did have to make a choice, originally planning to become a Baptist preacher, he walked away from that to play the blues. If you take a closer look at the Psalms, you’ll see an even earlier source of this blend: blues and gospel according to David.

The Bible mentions music and musicians quite a lot. In Samuel, we learn that David is a powerful musician, capable of driving away evil spirits that plague King Saul:

“Let our lord now command your servants who are before you. Let them
seek a man who is a skillful player on the harp; and it shall come about when
the evil spirit from God is on you, that he shall play the harp with his hand,
and you will be well.” So Saul said to his servants, “Provide for me now a
man who can play well and bring him to me.” Then one of the young men
said, “Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite who is a skillful
musician, a might man of valor, a warrior, one prudent in speech, and a
handsome man; and the Lord is with him.” … So it came about that
whenever the evil spirit from God came to Saul, David would take the
harp and play it with his hands, and Saul would be refreshed and be well,
and the evil spirit would depart from him.
– 1 Samuel 16:16-18, 23

How many of you have experienced the healing power of music, maybe not in the extreme that Saul did, but still in some way large or small? Have any of you ever found yourself more moved by a song during a worship service than by the pastor’s message (with profound apologies to all of my ministers, past and present)? Are there songs you hear that instantly take you back to a particular place in time? What songs make you simply want to get up and dance?

That’s it from me today. I’m going to get up from the computer and put in a new CD I got over the weekend from an old-time string band group that I discovered at Merlefest: Blind Boy Chocolate and the Milk Sheiks. They have been playing street corners in Asheville, NC, and were the big surprise hit at the festival. (Their “heavy metal” section consists of a saw, a washtub bass and a washboard.) For my back’s sake, I’ll just sit and listen, but I’ll be dancing on the inside.

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