top of page

Music Can Make Me Cry

Music and I have been bedfellows for a long time.  I’ve experienced life with music in two dimensions as a listener and as a musician.  The musician part seems to have drifted away over time.  Lack of practice, availability of instruments (a piano in particular), willingness to spend the time necessary to play at the level I would like, these are all reasons that I bandy about.  Yet the truth is, I think, that I’ve chosen to do other things in my life.  My need for physical activity seems to have won out over the contemplative and sedentary life style I would need to adopt in order to be a good musician.  I don’t regret that choice, although if I was talented enough to be an average musician with a little ongoing work, I wouldn’t shun that status.

The other dimension, the listening part, sticks with me, in my thoughts, emotions, and sometimes in the way I behave.  I’m not sure if my past musicianship serves to intensify all these things, but some of my friends seem to think so.

Although this has happened to me much in the past, the other day I took more notice than normal when a piece of music I was listening to caused me to choke up.  You know, that emotion that catches you in your chest, interrupts your breathing and, if you let it go would end up in a bit of a cry.

I started thinking about the different music that causes me to react this way and concluded that, for me, there are a couple of paths that music can take to my heart.

First, there is the emotion that comes from what I call ‘memory music’, the music that brings back thoughts from the past.  These thoughts can be of family, friends, great moments, or sad moments.  They can be distinct events in my mind or they can be a collection of memories with a common thread.  I think this is why we all have special songs from our past.  Some of those songs, when we hear them, cause us to react in a way that often sets our kids to wondering about us, and often not in a positive way.  We may immediately jump up, grab our spouse and start dancing around the living room, or we may start staring off into space seemingly disconnected from everything around us at that moment.  What used to drive my kids to distraction was when I started singing along to the music—off key, of course.  What surprises me still is that I can remember all the words of those old songs!

Second are the pieces that catch me off guard and hit deep inside for no apparent reason.  It’s a reaction that I don’t understand.  The music can be classical, big band, old pop, or jazz. However, I confess, rap has never had this effect on me.

The emotion may be a response to an event that the music connects with in my subconscious.  My emotions are also aroused when I hear melodies that make me feel at peace.  I’m not sure that I can explain any better what I feel, inside.  A composer I recently discovered, John Field, influenced Chopin, and wrote a nocturne that settles me every time I listen to it.

More recently I’ve been emotionally touched by the classical music performed by the pianists Lang Lang, Julia Fischer, Denis Matsuev, or Anna Fedorova.  I can’t get over how these younger performers are so good and classy.  Good music lives on!

Moving to the other end of the musical spectrum, I can say that some jazz played by Larry Carleton, the group Fourplay, or Pat Metheny can hit me inside as well.  These are definitely not driven by memories as I only discovered their music relatively recently.

Finally, there’s choral music.  My interest has been rekindled in my mature years, because many of my grandchildren have wonderful singing voices and they sing in excellent choirs.  This music sung by trained voices in women’s, men’s, or mixed choirs singing beautiful compositions by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, or choir arrangements by Sir David Willcocks, the master of the descant, can easily stir my emotions.

I can listen to any of this music one day and then, listening to the same music the next day, have my emotion stirred up again.

So, there it is—a confession—owning up to a ‘guy cry’ thing.  Not something us guys ever feel comfortable talking about.


PS. Here are a few of my favourites that you can link to:



Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
Apr 09

Your essay about music hit a common chord! I also played the saxiphone in a school band back in the day and studied piano for many years letting it go to pursue other interests, painting, photograhy, writing all the while raising a family and working as a photo journalist among other

interesting pursuits. Yet here I am like you finding so much richness in listening to music that sometimes evokes deep emotions and memories of the past and often just pure pleasure!

Thank you for sharing your own favorite lists of composers and musicians.


Mar 24

Enjoyed reading your article. My dad was big into music & had many, many hours of tape recorded music that he had made when I was growing up in the 50’s & 60’s. I enjoyed some of the big band music and that of James Last. It really was his passion! Rock n Roll kind of put all that music on the “back burner”. A


Mar 24

Beautiful essay, Jack ! I remember our dear music instructor at Western. Mr. Pulleyblank, and how enthusiastically he encouraged our orchestra, as ragtag as we were, to enjoy it and to keep practicing. I remember you and your saxophone. Like you, music was a huge part of my life, and still is in different ways now. I would refer you to Calgary’s own Internationally respected MusicTherapist, Jennifer Buchanan, who is an enthusiastic and dedicated healer through music. Truly inspiring.

bottom of page