If you follow me on Twitter (@elsiepod) you might have noticed I’m a wee bit excited about the Bandstand cast recording, which came out today. I’ve been listening to it and I’m on my third time around.
Obviously, I’ve been thinking about Bandstand quite a bit lately, since my last episode was an interview with Got Your 6 about their work with Bandstand. On that episode, Matt said that music helps the vets in the play heal from the traumatic events of the war. And that’s true, but in listening, I’m hearing a more complex message than what Matt and I talked about.
Listening to “Breathe,” I realized that it’s not exactly the music that heals. It’s making music. The distinction is small, I suppose, but my emphasis is on the work of making art. Because it’s not the music, per se, that helps them heal. Lots of people do use music to heal, of course. They listen. They dance. They use it as an escape or listen to lyrics that help them unlock emotions they can’t otherwise reach. And then there’s music therapy, which is another wonderful thing.
But Bandstand is about musicians. Musicians who set a goal and work toward it. Who have to learn to work together in order to succeed. Who spend their days practicing instruments, writing songs, and improving their technique and skills.
That’s meaningful work.
Similarly, in Groundhog Day [mild spoilers in this paragraph and the next one], Phil begins to find his way out of his loop by learning to play the piano. There’s not much he can do in his ever-repeating day that will have a lasting effect. He can’t build anything (it will be gone in the morning.) He can’t work on relationships with other people (they won’t remember the next day.) He can’t leave Punxatawney, and he can’t even build his body. What he can do is change his mental capacity.
Learning to pay the piano is the first real challenge Phil sets himself, and the first meaningful work he finds. In practicing and studying piano, Phil begins to grow as a human being, and it is that growth which eventually leads to his salvation.
Making art is meaningful work. Working toward a goal, developing relationships with co-workers, creating something that wasn’t there before. These things have been shown to help with all kinds of mental illness. They also help with recovering from trauma and adjusting to a new environment.
In Bandstand, the members of the Donny Nova Band learn to focus only on their work while they’re playing. “Breathe through the instrument, breathe through the end of the phrase/ And as everyone plays, it gets easier” Donny sings. He means to live in the moment. Concentrate on the work that needs to be done. Connect with the people in the room on the level needed to do what you’re doing. Exist. Eventually, you develop new habits of living–healthier habits that involve making something good with a group of people you can rely on.
And in doing this, your brain retrains itself. It learns that you can rely on the people around you. That you’re safe. That you’ll get regular rewards from succeeding, from meeting goals, from connecting with other people in a healthy way. And you get better.
I’m not knocking therapy or discounting the importance of medication. And I definitely think we should do more for our modern war vets who need help.
However, I am noticing a message rippling through Broadway right now about the importance of making art not only to get your message out (though that’s important too) but also because art heals (Bandstand, Groundhog Day.) Art brings people together (Cats, Dear Evan Hansen.) Working to help others improves your own life (Groundhog Day, Come From Away.) Work helps you develop and preserve your identity (Waitress, Sweat, Banstand.) And anything that gets in the way of creative expression is dangerous (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 1984.)
It’s a theme. I’m getting the message, Broadway. And I agree with it.
Make more art.
Coming up on the podcast:
7/3: New York Musical Festival
7/17: Mardie Baldo: Gleek Goddess
7/31: Julie James (looking good) or Dean O’Connell (he’ll be on eventually either way)