This archived article was written by: Nathaniel Woodward
I remember the first time I noticed what music was really all about: the song, the band, where I was, everything. Sure I had heard songs and bands, even attended a few concerts but it was wasn’t anything special. It was fall of 2000, as a teenager filled with all the angst left over from the ‘90s, one evening after school, I turned on the radio and Matchbox Twenty’s “Bent” began to play. I was floored, I had never been affected like that by a song. An event that was to play out several more times in my life, the first time I heard John Coltrane’s “Dedicated to You,” Beethoven’s “Opus 131” and Linkin Park’s “Hybrid Theory” album. I entered a whole new world. All of a sudden I was part of a cult whose leaders played symphonic poetry to my soul. I had, as it turned out, watched music affect others like that.
I’m old enough that I have grandparents that served in World War II who I lived most of my life around before they passed. My maternal grandfather, Ross Norton, was about the toughest guy on the planet, a Navy man who served in the Pacific Theater during the worst parts of the war, to say the least, he had seen some things. A few stories he told, hearing what he had gone through, it was no wonder he was so tough. Imagine the offspring of Bruce Banner and Don Rickles and it would paint a good picture of him. All my life I witnessed how battle hardened of a man he was which I remember fondly. But what makes me miss him the most is the kinship we share due to what music can do to our souls. When I was young, I was sitting in grandpa’s workshop. He was a carpenter who always had the radio playing loudly in the corner. It was common to hear Conway Twitty and Patsy Cline to which he seemed to pay little to no attention to.
After I had finished my task of sweeping sawdust into manageable piles, an opera piece began to play softly over the speakers. It was in Italian and to a young child it was more of a novelty than music, but as the song progressed and the singer hit the high notes, came the soft final few lines, and as they were sung I noticed my brash grandfather sitting in a corner wiping tears from his eyes. Excuse my colloquialism but, what the heck was going on?
Later I would learn that the song was the Sad Clown Aria “Vesti La Guibba” from Pagliacci sung by Luciano Pavarotti. A classic if there ever was one, but what was it about this song that reduced my mighty grandfather to tears? I’ll never know, but if he felt the same way I do when I listen to a song that catches me off guard I understand. We still have something to connect us years after he passed, a commonality which bridges the gap of time. Music gave that to us.