As far back as I can remember, I’ve always loved sad songs. I’ll take a B-side ballad over a hit single any day of the week. I like songs that tell stories and make me feel a little funny inside. If a song moves me to tears, I know it’s got some emotionally nutritive substance to it. These songs of suffering, heartbreak and loss are both disturbing and captivating, a combination of feelings that I am strongly attracted to but until recently, couldn’t tell you why exactly.
The quality of Leonard Cohen’s writing has that deep melancholia that I crave but his voice, though one of my favorites, lacks the tones that effectively move me to tears. It turns out there is a good reason for this.
A while back, I stumbled across an article that talked about the qualities of Adele’s voice that move so many people and that how a voice that sweeps from low to high notes creates appoggiaturas, dissonant notes within a chord that create tension and release, triggering a strong emotional reaction.
It is my goal to find the songs from our collective history that lyrically connect to a deep place of sadness and to perform them in a way that serves the song and the listener. This is important work to me as I feel that sad music has sacred roots and deserves more recognition than it currently receives in our modern society.
The Finnish tradition of lament singing is a combination of heavyhearted songwriting and woeful singing that allows the vocalist to express their sorrow and encourages them to shed all those those pent up feelings of grief and loss. The music is performed in a kind of a folk style, where anyone can join in and there is less attention placed on a singer’s technical skill and more emphasis on emotional quality and release. Imagine getting together with a close group of friends, singing the saddest songs you can think of, snotting all over yourself, eating delicious hot food, singing some more, crying some more and then just going back about your day like nothing happened. I seriously love this concept so hard. Am I the only one who thinks this sounds friggin awesome?!?!
From the death of a loved one, the loss of a lover, a soldier watching his comrades fall in battle, or the German Kindertotenlieder songs for dead children, there are so many story-songs that showcase the deep roots of music as a modality of emotional healing. A fairly recent example is blues music. Originating as call and response chants from slaves working in fields and chain gangs lamenting their back-breaking hard work and oppression. The blues gave a little solace in what are entirely cruel and unforgivable circumstances. The extreme suffering endured by the slaves gave birth to a form of music that shaped the entire trajectory of American music. All of country, rock & roll, jazz, hip hop and rap was born from this collective suffering.
This is sacred music.
People who have suffered deeply and brought music, poetry, art and innovation into the world are like our cultural mothers and their work is sacred. Childbirth is fucking painful. I’ve never done it myself but my mom showed me some pictures once and I’m still traumatized. Our mothers had to sacrifice themselves, their autonomy, their bodies and sometimes their sanity to bring us into the world. It wasn’t fucking easy but they did it so we could be here. I suggest that artists are no different. Most of the greatest works of art were born out of suffering.
You don’t have to suffer to create art, but then again if you aren’t somewhat tormented, you are likely to end up producing something with the saccharin-sweet stylings of pop music and culture that has lots of glitter and fizz but no substance. No nutrition. There is nothing wrong with eating candy occasionally, but it is not good for you to eat everyday and does not a meal make. Lets find music and art with meat too it, maybe even a little gristle and fat.
I invite you to please share your favorite sad songs, singers and stories that rouse those deeper, darker emotions. It is my goal to find the saddest pieces and sing them in a style that connects emotionally with the material and uses appoggiaturas to create that emotional reaction that we all need to shed those tears.