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The Power of Music

May 25, 2011

I was standing on the subway platform, listening to music on my iPhone while waiting for my train to arrive. I have some 4000+ songs on this device, and I usually like to listen to it on “shuffle.” It reminds me of listening to the radio in my car (when I lived in SoCal) and the anticipation created by not knowing what song was coming next.

I’m always surprised by how powerful a role music has played in key moments in my life. Tonight, I was transported back to 9th grade when the song “Personal Jesus” by Depeche Mode came through my headphones. I got to know this song on my very first cross-state trip that I did without my parents. We took an extraordinarily long bus trip from San Diego to Beaver City, Utah for a ski trip with the school’s French & German clubs. (Don’t even get me started with the jokes about the city’s name– I rode a bus for hours with a bunch of teenage boys, and I’ve heard them all..)

That song immediately propels me back to that bus ride to Utah, where I sat next one of the cutest boys in my class and did my best to hide my infatuation. As I tried to ignore my feelings, I listened to my Walkman and repeated “Personal Jesus” over and over. Aside from the fact that for many years I thought the lyrics were, “Reach out and touch me” and not “Reach out and touch faith” (which makes a lot more sense) — the song has long reminded me of teenage angst. Hope, dreams and utter depression were all present on that bus ride.

It got me thinking about being an actor, and the various ways we access the deep well of emotions needed to do our work. Often times, I’ll create a playlist for my character, with songs that represent the various highs and lows of the character’s life. My thought is: if music is such a strong force for my emotional memory in my “real” life, perhaps I can use music to create an emotional memory that is sorely needed for each character I play.

As for my cute 9th grade crush – I did not get the guy. But on Day 2 of our 4 day trip, I fell head over heels for a boy from a neighboring school… the first boy I’d ever kissed in the back of a crowded bus.  Believe it or not, there’s a song for that experience too… 🙂

11 Comments leave one →
  1. May 25, 2011 1:55 pm

    I absolutely agree. Music is like a cure and source of inspiration for me. I actually have some music/cds especially for some purposes. For example everytime I’m writing, I listen to the Inception or Battlestar Galactica Soundtrack. Plus all the songs connected to some people and memories or scenes from the movie/tv show, that is like a great emotional trigger.

    • May 25, 2011 3:50 pm

      Thanks, Lenka! I love the examples you have for what resonates with you as an artist. It’s funny what gets those creative juices flowing!

  2. May 25, 2011 3:43 pm

    I keep my iPod on shuffle most of the time and sometimes I feel it “talks” to me – plays just the right song to mirror my feelings or to snap me out of whatever I’ve gotten into a funk about. Sometimes I forget to listen to music and then I wonder why I feel so empty…

    • May 25, 2011 3:45 pm

      Forgot one thing I meant to say. You talked about making play lists for a character. I’ve sort of done that in reverse: I once realized that a cabaret show I’d created could have been programmed by Sally from Follies – it was completely full of longing and missed opportunities.

    • May 25, 2011 5:13 pm

      I love your thoughts- and the playlist for Sally sounds so awesome. I want to see what tracks they are! 🙂

  3. June 1, 2011 1:59 pm

    I love this I love this! I need to start making playlists for my characters, beyond the songs I get to sing in the given show.
    But seriously, I can’t do anything without my iphone on shuffle! Yes, my life IS a musical!

    • June 1, 2011 3:12 pm

      I know, right? I think to myself — “Ok, if Guenevere was sitting in Camelot, depressed, what kind of music would she listen to?” My answer: “Tori Amos. The ultimate feminist.” 🙂

  4. June 2, 2011 2:02 pm

    I love the idea of a playlist for a character! In a similar vein, when I played Emma in Jekyll and Hyde, I would only wear rose scented lotion for rehearsals and performances. For some reason that scent made me feel high society British. 🙂

    • June 2, 2011 5:41 pm

      Oh, totally! It’s so true that exciting all of the senses can really help an actor go deeper. Maybe you can talk more about that in one of your blog posts? 🙂

    • June 2, 2011 7:45 pm

      Wow, rose scented lotion? What a cool idea! I’ve never thought of using scent to up my emotional performance. Can’t wait to try it out sometime! 🙂

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