Soteriology in Song

A character in one of Oscar Wilde's plays confesses,

After playing Chopin, I feel as if I had been weeping over sins that I had never committed, and mourning over tragedies that were not my own. Music always seems to me to produce that effect. It creates for one a past of which one has been ignorant, and fills one with a sense of sorrows that have been hidden from one's tears. I can fancy a man who had led a perfectly commonplace life, hearing by chance some curious piece of music, and suddenly discovering that his soul, without his being conscious of it, had passed through terrible experiences, and known fearful joys, or wild romantic loves, or great renunciations.9

While Chopin's preludes and nocturnes are not what most of us "play" on our stereos, Wilde captures in these words the ecstatic reverie that we still listen to music in order to experience. Soul, blues, jazz, rock - we fill our lives with music as a kind of soundtrack to train and amplify our emotional awareness about the contents of our lives, or what we wish were the contents of our lives. Good popular music does what good music has always done - it enshrines an experience in sounds that others can in some manner visit and borrow as their own when the sounds are replayed. Our souls can pass mimetically through terror, joy, love, and loss under the guidance of the musical composition, ecstatically drawn into the inner life of another. As the late Joe Strummer put it: "On the road to rock 'n' roll/the lonely sing a soulful song/and leave a little light in the wilderness for somebody to come upon."10

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