A while back, the obituaries page in my newspaper had two stories on it.
One was about Maria von Trapp, the last surviving member of the family who was the basis for “The Sound of Music.” They escaped from Nazi-occupied Austria in 1938, and went on to perform music throughout Europe and America, eventually opening a ski lodge in Stowe, VT. Her New York Times obituary relates that in addition to touring with the family choir, she worked as a lay missionary in Papua New Guinea. She adopted a son, Kikuli Mwanukuzi, after meeting him there, and eventually moved back to Vermont to be close to family. Her brother said “She was a lovely woman who was one of the few truly good people. There wasn’t a mean or miserable bone in her body.”
The other was about Alice Herz-Sommer, believed to be the oldest Holocaust survivor, who died at age 110. Her story of surviving two years in a Nazi prison camp was documented in “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life,” which won the 2014 Oscar for best short documentary. An accomplished pianist who particularly loved the works of Chopin, her music kept her alive–both emotionally and literally–during her internment in Theresienstadt until its liberation in 1945, and served as a source of solace for many of her fellow prisoners. (Read more of her story here.) She is remembered for her optimism and bright spirit, and her ability to live life with very little bitterness despite the losses she suffered.
The juxtaposition of these pieces was a vivid reminder to me of the ways in which music serves as a force to lift the human spirit and help us become more resilient–to sustain our energy through many kinds of adversity. For those who sing or play an instrument, music serves as a way to express a wide range of emotions that cannot always be put into words. For those who compose, music is a vehicle for telling stories that enable others to share the sense of loss, grief, anger, and other difficult emotions, but also to create a sense of movement toward hope and victory. And for those who simply listen, music is a way of discovering kindred spirits, gaining courage to move through challenging times, calming the soul, and celebrating triumph over the forces of loss, sadness, and darkness.
Over time, I’ve started collecting songs that speak to me of resilience. Here’s one (Ready for the Storm: written by Dougie Maclean, performed by Deanta) that I shared with a friend when she was going through turbulent times in her personal life–she told me later that it was a very powerful force in helping her sustain her energy during a major transition. What songs are in your personal resilience music collection?