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Music: The Background for a Life Well-Lived

My friends, it is my intention to once again share a bit of wisdom with you. Perhaps it will help you to cope with the problems and challenges of life in this the 21st Century. Heaven knows they are coming at us with an ever-increasing speed and frequency. Like many of my visits with you, this one will be as much philosophical and practical. You cannot limit your education to the here and now. You need to deal with the esoteric as much as with the obvious.

Congreve (1697) left behind a bit of advice that I have used to help me stay sane on more than one occasion. He stated that, "…music has charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak." I know this man to be a very wise person, because he was also the man who stated that, "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." I know that one to be a truism. Oh yeah.

Many are the challenges that we face today. People want us to do more with less. Trust me when I say that I have tried doing more with less. Guess what? When you do that, all you can provide is less. Once this fact begins to dawn on each of us, the stresses begin to pile up.

Since people keep pressing us to provide our services cheaper and faster, the stress in our life grows, our individual worries and concerns expand and they start to grow. As this process continues, our ability to do our job begins to diminish. This can lead to a mental shutdown if we fail to take time to stop and smell the roses.

There are those who will tell you that there is no such thing as being able to stop and smell the roses. To this I say, "bull…." Remember the old maxim which stated that, "… all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy?" To that I would add, "… all work and no play makes Jack a stressed out basket case." I have seen this and sadly I have, at times, lived this.

However, as a community band musician I have a place to hide from the problems facing our nation, our fire service, and ourselves. I go to the back row of the band and begin my musical trip in the midst of my tuba playing buddies. I do not have to be the expert there. I simply need to make the appropriate sound at the proper place in the score, as determined by the composer of the piece and the conductor of the band.

Yes my friends, there can be a great solace in only having to follow orders. Throughout my life I have made use of music to assist me in the living of my life. There are a number of different situations where a bit of music can help out. Sometimes music can serve as a means of bring peace to a stressful situation.

Generally the works of Mozart fit the bill when I need to take my mind out of gear and bank the fires of anger and frustration. The lilting melodies of a Mozart horn concerto can band the fiery passions within my heart. This calming influence is a welcome change to the day-to-day stress in my life, and calm is always good.

There are also times when I just want to take myself out of the chaos of the world around us. Life can make us sometimes feel as though we are no longer in control of our lives. This can create an out-of-control feeling within our psyches. There comes a yearning for an earlier time when things were not quite so hectic. A rational soul might say that such a time has never really existed. To this I say no. We create what exists within our minds and if such a place truly ever existed, it existed within the nooks and crannies of our noggins.

Many times I use music to seek refuge in another time and place. As a matter of fact, I make an annual pilgrimage to a place where such a dose of nostalgia is the ruling principle. I make reference to my membership in the Windjammers Unlimited, a group dedicated to preserving the music of the old-time circuses which existed from the 1870's through the mid 1950's.

Each January we gather in Florida for our annual meet. For a few short days we all get to relive the days of yesteryear when circuses travel from town to town in America. We close out our week by playing a concert at the Police Athletic League's (PAL) Sailor Circus facility in Sarasota. Our group provides a one-hour, center-ring concert. We then provide a smaller circus band to play the appropriate music for the circus performers as they fly through the air with the greatest of ease. I return from this event refreshed and recharged. You need to find something in your life which serves as a similar release from the trials and tribulations of the modern world.

Of course there are other times when I need to use music as a sort of atmospheric butt-kicking. When I am dragging a bit, military march music can often serve to get my act in gear. One of the pieces of music which I use to serve this critical function comes from within the works of composer Robert Russell Bennett. This is a march which comes from his famous "Victory at Sea" suite.

This particular piece of music is the Guadalcanal March. This stirring melody begins with a quiet series of reflective passages which portray the depths of despair felt by the Marines who were left to their own devices to battle the Japanese when the U.S. Naval fleet weighed anchor and left with a great many of their supplies and reserve forces.

As the piece moves on, the tempo rises over time to a stirring beat which reflects the changes in the status of the battle wherein our forces went from underdog status to attack dog prominence. Many have been the times when this piece lit a fire under me and allowed me to get on with a critical task that I was avoiding. When tired it cause me to pick up energy as the piece went along. It took me from neutral to butt-in-gear mode. It seems to work better for me than one of those Red Bull energy drinks.

Let me make a critical point here. What I am saying here is that in my case, I look to music for mental support, relief, and motivation. Perhaps my ideas here may not appeal to you. That is a risk I always take when working on one of my commentaries. It is important for me to remember that I am from a generation different than many of you. Therefore my view of life, and how it should be lived, will be quite different than many of my younger associates. Let me share a couple of examples with you.

I am old enough to remember meeting a Spanish-American War veteran. My grandfather served in the Canadian Army during World War I and my father was wounded in Italy while serving in the 88th Infantry Division as a combat rifleman. I myself served in Vietnam and my brother was an infantryman in Germany while I was serving in Southeast Asia.

Let me also suggest that I recall hanging off of the back of a speeding Mack pumper during my early years as a rookie Newark fireman. I can also recall hanging off of the side of our 1962 Pirsch tractor-trailer aerial. I can recall doing any number of things which would, in today's safety-conscious world, be frowned upon severely; as well they should. The point here is that I learned from what I did and it is part of my plan to share these things with you.

However, the guts of this visit with you revolve around the fact that you need to find a way to work through the stresses and strains which face all of us. I cannot tell you how to handle this. What I can do is suggest that drugs and alcohol are not the answer to stress relief. What I can also do is to provide the example of how I have chosen to handle stress and motivation in my life. My love for music fills that bill.

Some of you may choose to join a fraternal or charitable organization. Others might consider becoming volunteers with the Boy Scouts or the Girl Scouts; particularly if they have children whose interest lie in those areas. Let me also suggest that you may choose to become active within your religious denomination. Or it could be that you become a coach in your local youth soccer or Little League baseball organization.

The key here is to find something which will allow you to take your mind out of the "work gear" mode within which many of us find ourselves enmeshed. For me, it is music. For you … well, I leave that to you. But let me warn you that a failure to handle stress can have long-term implications for both your mental and your physical heath and well being. Act now before it is too late. `