Throughout my life, I have found a lot of comfort in music. Recently, I have begun playing a lot of piano. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, I have begun feeling trapped, like I was in prison, but once I sit down at my piano and begin playing, my anxiety evaporates and I relax into joy.
This reminds me of my favorite scene in the movie Shawshank Redemption. The protagonist Andy Dufresne is in prison for a crime he did not commit, and he gains access to the warden’s office where he discovers a box of records. He finds a record of Mozart’s opera Marriage of Figaro and plays it on the record player, broadcasting the music to the rest of the inmates. It is a stunning scene of the inmates’ puzzled expressions, the warden pounding on the locked door, and Andy’s peaceful countenance as the operatic vocals soar through the prison. He has found a calmness and a freedom that prison cannot contain. Andy’s friend at the prison, Red, narrates this scene quite beautifully. He remarks,
“I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.”
The aria is a duet sung by the Countess and her maid Susanna as they plot to expose the aristocratic Count Almaviva for his infidelity. It is a song about breaking free from the bondage of oppression. What Shawshank Redemption shows us is that it is possible to find freedom even when you are imprisoned or locked up physically. We don’t need to let the confines of our physical environment restrict our ability to find joy or freedom. We can access it within, and music is a conduit to this freedom.
Plato said that music “gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything.” I find myself spending more time listening to and playing music to calm my mood and lift my spirits. We need music now more than ever, so I encourage you to put on your favorite tunes, dust off that guitar, play that song you used to enjoy, or groove to a beat. By bringing music into your world, you can begin to feel it open up your heart and soak in the beauty that exists in this world. Even for a few moments, it is possible to be free when music is your guide.