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Music and happiness

Five long winters ago —before the current state of affairs— I was walking in New York City. I had just exited a MoMa exhibit, and turned along a brisk, crowded, and seasonally-decorated Fifth Avenue. It was sensational: there was cheerful optimism in the air, with metropolitans reveling in the season. So far, it was living up to the legacy of being the “most wonderful time of the year”.

As I took everything in, one aspect featured more prominently than the rest. Across the street, a light show danced on buildings as the festive theme from the holiday movie, Home Alone, resounded over large speakers. Since then, not a winter goes by without my recalling that moment, forever sealed in my memory.

For those who have been, the winter sights and sounds of the Big Apple are unforgettable, and the musical association makes my recall all the more vivid. It prompts me to ask a question, “Why are celebrations, festivities, and formal events almost always linked to music?” And, “Would the meaning of the occasion provide enough significance in spite of it?”

What inspired the tradition of singing “Auld Lang Syne” on New Year’s Eve? Or the universally known “Happy Birthday”? (Boy, I sure wish I received the royalties for that one.) In the USA, can you imagine the Fourth of July, or a baseball game without hearing the National Anthem? And what couple would want their formal wedding procession in silence?

Like many questions involving the arts, pinpointing the exact answer may elude us. It may be subjective, based on each individual’s life experience. Maybe that’s the point after all — the answers lie in the capacity of one’s own feelings.

Music is a means by which one demonstrates the sincerity of deeper emotion: “I’m happy, and I mean it!” (The scene where Buddy the Elf finally meets his father springs to mind…) The inverse is also true: it’s difficult to fake genuine feeling when singing. There is just nowhere to hide!

I have long been delighted by the film reviews of the late critic, Roger Ebert. In his 1996 review of Woody Allen’s musical, Everyone Says I Love You, he says

"Sometimes, when I am very happy, I sing to myself. Sometimes, when they are very happy, so do the characters in ''Everyone Says I Love You’’ (sing). I can't sing. Neither can some of Allen's characters. Why should that stop them? Who wants to go through life not ever singing?"

During this year’s festivities, you may have the opportunity to encourage someone feeling “blue” and disassociated from the spirit of the season. Music can redirect their focus to appreciate the good and meaningful things outside of their own thoughts, and to feel united within a community. If you could share a song with that person, or even a loved one you have not seen for a while, which would you choose? You don’t even need to sing it to them - sometimes listening to a beautiful recording in silence is all you need. Perhaps you can recall fond memories associated with this season of giving. In light of those, which songs have reserved a special place in your heart?


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