Background Music

Last week I wrote about how we often miss many of the sounds around us. It’s a good thing to learn to listen in layers, to observe with our ears. This week, I’d like to go in the opposite direction – to put some music in your family’s life that is meant to stay in the background.

Some music is meant to be ignored. When was the last time you really noticed a film score? If you’re the average moviegoer, you don’t often hear the way the composer uses music to set the mood for what is happening on the screen. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be. The score underlines the emotion of the scene you’re watching; if it’s working well, you’re pulled into the story by the composer’s invisible hand.

Stores use this effect, too, though it does creep me out a bit. I’ll find myself happily humming along with a tune while grocery shopping, then realize that I must match their carefully researched profile of the average shopper. They knew I’d like that music, those crafty marketers. They were trying to manipulate my emotions to make me buy more! Feeling used, I console myself by grabbing a second half-gallon of ice cream.

It’s funny how our moods can be shaped by music.

Here’s how this plays out in our family’s life. It’s evening. Dinner is just ending. We’ve worked hard to gather everyone around a table full of food, and we’ve just enjoyed the meal and the usual joking banter that comes with it. But now there’s a let-down. Dishes loom. Everyone, young and old, is expected to pitch in to clean up. But nobody has a second wind to get started.

Then invariably, one of the boys pops a CD in the player in the kitchen. Loud, energetic music fills the house. It might be his current favorite band, or something classic. Lately, Frank Sinatra has crooned us through our post-dinner blahs. Next thing we know, we’re all up and moving, often singing along, our spirits rejuvenated – often without thinking about why.

Where could you slide in some feel-good music into your family’s day? Go ahead; try it. If all goes well, maybe they won’t even notice. They’ll just smile more.

Bruce Van Patter

all material ©2005 Bruce Van Patter