The Healing Power of Film Music

The death of my dear friend Patty a couple of weeks ago rocked my life more than I initially thought. At the time, I didn’t realize how unfocused I was, and how that affected my ability to work or to concentrate on the simplest things, like watching TV or reading a book. I’m still not back to 100% mental capacity (no comments from the peanut gallery), but I’m getting there.

And how am I getting there? Through film music.

Given my penchant for tears, I surprisingly haven’t delved into my saddest film scores, listening to one score after another guaranteed to unleash the waterworks. Instead, the act of simply listening to film music is bringing me back to some semblance of normalcy.

In times of stress or loss, we turn to the things that make us feel safe. I’m not one to particularly wear my heart on my sleeve around others, so I tend to draw inward and shut myself off from other people until I have dealt with everything. Only then do I shed that self-imposed cocoon and re-emerge back to the light of human interaction and living.

During my self-imposed exile, film music takes on a different meaning. No longer is it wedded to its original onscreen images. It now becomes something more primal, more elemental. At times like these, I listen to film music as a way to think and feel when the brain and the heart can’t seem to move beyond the pain. The power of pure music again asserts itself through the heart and the head, the gut and the soul, coalescing these seemingly disparate connections into a single entity that simply feels.

My choice of film music may seem strange and a tad reclusive. Some people rely on friends and family, others may choose a different genre of music or have completely different ways to deal with their pain. Whatever the choice, we all turn to those elements in life that make us feel one with ourselves and the life around us. We choose those people or things that make us feel whole and alive.

William Congreve wrote, “Music has charms to soothe a savage breast.” But I think legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma comes closer to the mark when he said, “Healing? I think that is what music is all about. Don’t you?”

I’ve already written about how film music brought Patty and I together one last time. So it is only fitting that this art form that I hold so dear works its magic once again to help me heal. While music will never replace the loss of a loved one, its power to heal is incalculable and for that I am truly thankful.

5 comments

  1. I’m sorry for your loss Jim. I truly understand what you say here. I lost my two dogs (14 years old each), one after each other. The first one to go was especially hard for me. I was so sad and I listened to a lot of music after work , during the weekends. I made a compilation of music in his memory also. Music helped me to get through that loss. In french, we have a proverb that says: “La musique adoucit les moeurs” which could be translated to “Music soothes the soul”. Yes, Film music in my case also.

    1. Sorry to hear about your losses, Martin. Pets are especially hard it seems. But thankfully we have friends and film music to help us through these times.

  2. As I stated in what film music means to me… It took a while to go from listening to collecting. In 1977, when I am sure a lot of new collectors started (STAR WARS), it was a rough time. My parents had officially split from each other. Nothing was ever the same.

    With film music, it released all the emotions in me. I was excited, laughed, cried… everything. To me, film music was the escape from what was going on. It really is like a brother/sister I never had.

    Though I do my fair share of listening each and every week. Both at home and in the car (I have a distance to get to work)… I have always done more film score playing at times of crisis and extreme emotion.

    Near Christmas in 2008, we lost my Grandmother after several years of poor health. She always believed in what I did. My interests, etc.
    She was a strong advocate of my film music collecting. She knew how much it means to me. So, the music started playing. Nothing to get rid of the tears, just pulling things out that meant the most to me. All styles. Many composers.

    Even though a tragedy had to happen, it renewed my love and respect for film music. It has gotten me through some very difficult times.

    This past year… We had to have my Mother’s cat put to sleep. I had adopted her several years ago for her. She was sick for a while. But, she was a fighter. Fiesty. On my birthday last year, my Mother and I had her put to sleep. She was on a table, and I was close to her. She reached her paw out and placed it on my arm. She let out her last breath. Though I was a complete wreck, I had music playing in my head to get me out of the vet. When we got in the car, I put music on… And thought of happier times. When my Grandmother and Cameo (the cat) were still alive. I smiled. Tears began to flow.
    The music played.

    It will come to no one’s surprise, with my love of film music, and it’s healing power… Several of my personal pets are all named after film and t.v. characters… Jango (STAR WARS), Scully and Mulder(X FILES) and Sydney and Nadia (ALIAS). The sets are no longer with us.

    Sorry I have gone on forever, but it struck a chord, for a lack of words.

    1. Richard, thanks for sharing such personal memories. It’s amazing what music, and film music in particular for fans like us, can pull out of us, whether in times of tragedy or not.

      I remember when I had to put my cat Stinker (the story behind the name is a long one) to sleep a couple of years ago. She also had been sick for a long time, and now was down to only four pounds. When the vet left me alone with her, she looked up at me, gave my hand one last lick and she was gone. Definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. My dog is getting up there in years (almost 11) and some day I’ll have to do the same for him. It’s one of the trade-offs of having pets. They’re our constant companions and all they ask of us is love and taking care of them. Part of that care is to help ease them to the other side.

      I don’t remember what film music I played that day, if anything. But I guarantee you that film music has helped me heal and helped me through most of the major decisions of my life. I’d be awfully lonely without it.

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