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Baumel Joseph: The wine that fills the cup of silence

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I live in a world of silence, with only the sound of traffic and electric household appliances disrupting the stillness. When my husband lived at home, his caregiver would wake him with music – loud, rhythmic and lively music. It was certainly delightful and a stark contrast from my muted house these days.

My usual custom is to listen to the news while driving to work and to watch TV with dinner. Although sometimes I listen to jazz on the car radio, it is more common to hear voices, rather than melodies, coming from my speakers.

All of the above led me to ponder the absence of music in my life. Why do I not have a radio in the house? Why don’t I play music on my iPhone or computer?

When my husband and I got married, our one costly gift to ourselves was a sophisticated sound system. My husband continuously upgraded and listened to it while he worked in his home office. We still have hundreds of records.

I loved the sounds, the rhythms and the melodies. Why do I not resurrect this system now?

(I do know that when I walk, I do not like using headphones or earbuds that cut me off from the surrounding environment.)

But let me get back to music and its importance. Music is a unique form of communication. It is a language without words that manages to instill joy, fear, love and anger in us. It raises us up and thrusts us down, displaying the full range of our humanity: devotion and emotion.  Music entertains and educates. It can be controlling or uncontainable, bursting forth with rhythm, or breaking out into rebellious chaos. Somehow, it represents humanity in all our glorious and inglorious relationships. Through music, we express ourselves, or develop an awareness of ourselves, if we are fortunate.

Music also has the power to move us. When my father died, I drove home from New York, spending many long hours in my car listening to great music – and I finally cried. Music helped me where no sermon or consoling words had. Great music can do that. Clearly, this is a matter of taste and context, and it is surely personal and cultural. But music is a resource we can all rely on in stressful times. Music is our vehicle for emoting and expressing our unique humanity.

I was recently reminded of this truism. As part of the celebration of its 250th anniversary, Montreal’s Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue chose to honour my husband with a gala dinner. I asked our friend, Cantor Gideon Zelermyer, to surprise him with a Leonard Cohen song. Gideon chose If It Be Your Will. It made me cry.

I was moved by the whole evening, due to all the respect and love that was shown to my husband. But I only cried when Gideon sang. Of course, he sang magnificently. A glorious song based on biblical lyrics, with a superb singer – what a recipe. The music spoke to a complete range of emotions, which allowed me to express myself.

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As I was writing this column, my seven-year-old granddaughter FaceTimed me. She wanted me to hear her play a piano duet with her mom. Music will be part of her life and I am grateful to her parents for ensuring that. My granddaughters have gained an appreciation for music – for its beauty, rhythms and melodies, but also for the efforts necessary to produce it and the joy that it brings. I love that the family shares in it, especially the mother-daughter duet part. But mostly, I must admit, I love that she calls me to share her triumphs.

As musician Robert Fripp once said, “Music is the wine that fills the cup of silence.” We all need music. So I will resurrect my in-house sound system.