Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - October 18, 2013

No Clue

The human condition dictates many aspects of our lives. If it were not for food, drink, shelter and sex, it's obvious we wouldn't last long as a species. Even some less obvious needs, such as having a partner, seem to make sense when we look a bit deeper. When your babies are as helpless as ours are at birth, having a helpmate to share the load makes the prospects of survival much greater.

Other aspects of our lives remain a mystery. We still don't know why we sleep, but any time we are short of shut-eye, our bodies remind us they aren't happy. So even though we don't know why it's essential, we're confident it is.

But what about something like music? While most of us enjoy some type of music, few of us see it as essential. It appears to be something that can make us feel much better, yet its absence doesn't leave us feeling all out of sorts the way a shortage of sleep does.

Perhaps it comes along as a byproduct of another useful trait. A correlation between being musical and having an aptitude for math has been noted for a long time. Orchestra conductor, cellist and friend David Littrell has frequently told this story: one day when he was home sick, a woman arrived at his school. Her assigned task was to form a school orchestra. She asked who liked music and was good at math. His classmates pointed to his empty chair. His career as a musician began at that moment.

Still, many people enjoy music who are not particularly good at math.

Perhaps enjoying music has something to do with being at a certain point in a person's development. It's well known that people are inclined to most enjoy the music they heard in their teenage years or 20s. Of course, it isn't true in every case. If it were, classical music would have probably disappeared long ago.

In the past, this constancy worked quite well for musicians - as they aged, so did their fans. Singer Bing Crosby became popular in his middle 20s and he remained popular with the same fans until his death in his 70s. Fifteen years later, the bobby-sock generation was screaming at a mid-20s Frank Sinatra. His fans also stayed with him throughout his life.

But the arrival of rock-n-roll seemed poised to break this connection. While just as in earlier generations, popular band musicians and singers in the vanguard of this style were in their mid-20s, the music contained words and ideas that seemed decidedly tied to youth. The theme was to not trust anyone over 30. So what was a rock-n-roller going to do when he or she passed that mile-post?

In addition, rock-n-roll musicians didn't just sit and play their music. They often performed with an almost athletic animation, gyrating and jumping around the stage with a vigor that wasn't going to be easy to maintain when they reached their 40s or 50s.

So would rock-n-roll fans still enjoy the music of a group now well past 30 who eliminated the physically-demanding aspects of their performance or replaced older musicians with younger ones?

Early in September, husband Art, older daughter Mariya and I had the opportunity to see firsthand what the answer was when we attended a "Foreigner" concert. Not a single member of the traveling version of the group is an original band member. But many of the current members have been with the band for some time and the man still in charge is Mick Jones, a founder. So from a musical perspective, it seemed likely they would duplicate the original band's sound effectively. Still, I was expecting a somewhat toned-down version of the band I had loved.

That idea went right out the window early in the first song!

In fact, the band had a lot more energy than I did. A few songs into the show, lead singer Kelly Hansen said, "We won't be reciting anything by our old friend Bill Shakespeare tonight. We're here for a rock concert."

And that was precisely what we experienced! They were loud and did a great job on all the numbers - "Cold as Ice," "Juke Box Hero," "Dirty White Boy" and others. They played for more than two hours without a pause. I was glad I had brought along a tissue to stuff in my ears or I would have left with my ears ringing and a headache.

But what surprised me most was the crowd. I was in my mid-20s when Foreigner made a big splash on the popular music scene - meaning I should have been in the mainstream of their fans. So as I looked around the auditorium, I was expecting one of those "oldies" fund-raiser moments I've seen on our local PBS station where almost everyone is about the same age - in this case, about my age.

That didn't happen. There were folks who were obviously 10 to 20 years older than I. Then there was the college-age gal sitting next to me who was obviously enjoying the music very much. In fact, as I looked across the audience, every decade was nicely represented - from those who appeared to be in their late teenage years right up to those I would have expected to be at home watching "Lawrence Welk" on syndication.

As a nod to the cross-generational nature of their music, members of the Manhattan High School choir joined the band for "I Want to Know What Love Is" near the end of the show. (Foreigner gave a $500 grant to help support the school's music program.)

When it was over, people left the auditorium smiling and obviously energized. My only disappointment was that younger daughter Katie couldn't be with us. She and the other members of her a-cappella group, In-A-Chord, were at the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson ... singing.

So, in the end, the night was proof that cross-generation music exists and not just in the classical arena. And music's ability to make people happy was certainly obvious as well.

But why does music have that effect on us? I still have no clue.

Cell-phone camera pictures of (top) the band on the stage and (bottom) the people in our row. The fellow at the lower left appeared to be considerably older than I, while the woman at the lower right is about college age."

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