Spring is for lovers, so the saying goes. But when there are no lovers, there is no Spring — at least according to the great American Songbook lyricist Lorenz Hart. He once wrote, “Now, April, May and June are sadly out of tune. Life has stuck a pen in the balloon. Nobody needs me. Nobody loves me. Spring is here, I hear.” The Bible (Song 2:12) tells us that spring is “the time of singing,” but not for Hart.
You may not be aware of this, but music is the only art form that works directly on the nervous system. Neurologists can’t explain how music achieves its affect, they only know that it does.
Modern musicologists confirm what Biblical writers knew 2000 years ago: Music slows down time for the emotions and allows the listener to experience feelings and sentiments in a way no other art form can do. Words and music are a powerful tool in the song collections of both the Biblical and the American Songbooks.
Here’s another song about Spring not coming because of a love gone bad — sung here by Carly Simon and Jimmy Webb.
(“Spring will be a Little Late this Year” performed by Simon and Webb)
The great composer and lyricist Frank Loesser — who wrote that song — “Spring Will be a Little Late This Year” – said that when emotion is too strong for ordinary speech, songs should be written.
Let me go back to the song I mentioned at the beginning. In 1938 Richard Rogers and Larry Hart wrote “Spring is Here” for the musical I Married an Angel. The poet Hart was the most confessional lyricist of the American Songbook; his lyrics are a window into his deeply tormented soul.
In “Spring is Here,” Hart’s lyrics portray a love than never flourished, and the singer is wallowing in self-pity. It was the great but troubled Hart at his lowest.
Lyrical poetry is written for instrumental accompaniment and powerful singing, and here is a great example: Broadway diva Audra McDonald singing “Spring is Here.”
(“Spring is Here” performed by Audra McDonald)
I suppose we all like joyful music. And we have played several such songs in this series. But sometimes joyful music is just out of place.
In the Biblical Songbook, in Jeremiah 25 (10) we read, “I will take from them the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride….”
Israel’s exile years are described by Jeremiah as a time when the happy sounds of everyday life would cease, specifically, the joyful sounds of the wedding song, and the celebration song.
The songs of sadness in the American Songbook help us express things most of us could never articulate ourselves. As I have said, the best popular songs can slow down time, and enable us to experience emotions in a way no other art form can do.
Next time, what makes some music superior and other music mediocre.
This is Bob Case for “Singing in the Shower: The American Songbook and the Church.”