The closest thing to music in my young life was the recitation of the Holy Quran. My family was not particularly inclined to art or music or performance in the conventional sense, but we relished the joy of listening to what we believed uplifted the soul and the mind. We knew, listening to those words, that they held meanings and messages far beyond what our thoughts could conceive; we didn’t understand the Arabic, but trusting that the melodic recitation held more than mere pleasantry gave it a feeling of earth-shattering importance.
Growing up in a religious household, I was also taught what was beautiful was inherently meaningful– art which held only carnal delight was wasted in frivolity and irrelevance. The most powerful and beautiful things hold messages, meaning, morality; they transcend time and place and people and belong to a narrative greater than ourselves, and reveal truths delicate, yet universal. This definition fit perfectly into our conception of Quran recitation, as we believe it was speech ordained from God himself.
All the other music we listened to– old Indian songs my dad would play nostalgically, reality singing competitions my mom sometimes watched, or the fad pop music that weaved in and out of our lives– was hardly relevant. It was mindless entertainment.
Only a few years ago did I really challenge the notion that what I heard was mindless or meaningless. Of course, the Quran kept its pedestal, but all manmade art begged me to reconsider its value. I have always loved stories, and storytelling, and writing– I believe it is as embedded into my identity as the blood in my veins. And for the first time, I discovered musical theatre and learned that music could tell stories. I learned it could fill me up with anticipation, deflate my senses in sadness, burst sporadically into joy and fear and anger. I learned it, too, could tell a form of the truth.
I think it was sort of destined for me to fall in love with an art form that breathed words to life and life to stage. I had read more books than I could remember, befriended more characters than friends in real life, and so the theatre felt real to me. I also couldn’t help but marvel in the multifaceted art forms that clashed in its creation, to give it meaning and depth beyond which could have ever been conveyed in a single medium. Even just the musical aspect of it was indivisible from all the other elements: acting, lyrics, stage design, costumes, plot, characterization. The music was literature personified wordlessly.
Who I am as an individual strongly affects my relationship with art and music. I am a writer of poetry, of novels, of spoken words, of short stories, and music and cadence affect and enliven my written experience. I love musical theatre, and that deepens my appreciation of music as storyteller. And in my personal definition, the greatest music tells a story– it is threaded in a larger narrative and reveals a truth about our shared existence. I realize now that all art and performance must be held in a revered position. We must believe in its holiness, as my family did with the Quran, and trust that it shows us, above all, what it means to be human.