What is it in a good song that really moves us? Why do many of us feel compelled to sing songs, write or play music, dance or DJ? Have you ever felt moved to write a novel, story, or poem? One of my favorite references to the need we all have to express ourselves through the arts is in none other than J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”.
A beloved feature of Tolkien’s storytelling is how he gives a singing voice to his characters. They sing about their journey’s, the news, and history. Late in their treacherous journey to Mordor Frodo and Samwise have just survived the morbid marshes, bringing on Gollum as a guide and being denied access to the city. To make matters worse they are confronted by soldiers of Gondor and the suspicious Faramir, captain of the guard.
Samwise is telling Faramir about their journey and diplomatically highlighting information that will represent he and Frodo as compatriots of Gondor. While talking of their passage through the magical and mysterious even land of Lorien Sam pauses to describe the mystical elven queen “Galadriel”. Here is Tolkien’s voice of Samwise Gamgee:
“The Lady of Lorien! Galadriel!” cried Sam. “You should see her, indeed you should, sir. I am only a hobbit, and gardening’s my job at home, sir, if you understand me, and I’m not much good at poetry – not at making it: a bit of a comic rhyme, perhaps, now and again, you know, but not real poetry – so I can’t tell you what I mean. It ought to be sung.”
Have you had difficulty singing your song? Whether of joy or sorrow? While I believe expressing our experiences through the arts is a vital part of being human, there are times when attempts at such expression is met with overwhelm or worse.
A good song tells a story. A good story is real. It really moves us. What is it that is “moving” when we are “moved”? Emotion lies at the heart of the matter of art and movement. The evocation of emotions that are intimately tied to our sense of self and our history. We feel real when some experience ‘now’ activates the story of ‘then’ and the emotion or “e-motion” integrates past impulses and tendencies to move the body in the way it has in the past. I don’t know if Sam had some past experiences that inhibited his ability to experience his history as integrated in the present or if he was just socialized to think he wasn’t a poet or a singer of songs?
I’ve been told that in some African countries when westerners say they, “don’t sing” they are looked at with skepticism because “everybody can sing!” However, when we have experienced disturbing events in our past and have been socialized to not pay attention to what moves us on the inside, we become inhibited. There are the extreme cases of being “scared speechless”, a situation where Broca’s area of the brain is ‘turned’ off due to overwhelming stress and dramatic changes in body posture and the physical experience of the body as conceptualized by “somatoform dissociation” and more subtle examples of situations where we just feel uncomfortable voicing our opinions, moving spontaneously to music, or “taking up space”.
Many who pursue the arts directly and professionally and those who are just aware of the importance of their own artistic expression may find that their desire to be moved their own emotion through their creative enterprises are blocked by the emergence of uncomfortable feelings, impulses, and of course thoughts. Yes, there are always those nagging, insidious judgmental thoughts lurking around the corner like the orcs that seem to crop up just when Sam and Frodo could use a break.
The relationship between emotion, movement, personal history and creativity can highlighted by advances in modern neuroscience and the marriage of the humanities with “everything neuro”. There are many university programs popping up that study the connection between the brain and culture and what is coming to be known as neuro-anthropology. Some of these studies look from the brain out and others from outside in. In any event, the power of a song is no longer a precious secret of the gifted bards and wordsmiths of old. It’s incontrovertibly permeated our consciousness and is the object of awe from a variety of personalities!
So, sing Sam, sing!
by Tony Cotraccia