When Music Makes You Cry [4 Stories]

I grew up surrounded by and immersed in a musical environment. From Indian Classical music, semi-classical forms, film music, to Osibisa, BoneyM, ABBA, and the BeeGees, I heard and sang (at least tried) everything. My thinking and learning were deeply influenced by the vast diversity and confluence of musical genres, at the time. I realize now what a profound impact it had on my ability to appreciate different forms of music and how they move me. Here are 4 stories of how music made me cry.

Deep Voice, Tenacious Spirit

Pta. Gangubai Hanagal

I first heard her on AIR’s National Program of Music when I was about 7 or 8. I don’t remember the Raag (melodic scale) she sang but her powerful voice and divine resonance of the Tanpura had left me mesmerized. Since then, I revered her as my Guru or teacher, even though I never met or learned from her. In my naïveté, I dreamt of singing like her. I didn’t know her story of struggle. Dr. Gangubai Hangal’s gift to Indian Classical Music is immeasurable but I didn’t quite know that, then. Despite a botched tonsillitis procedure that changed her voice forever, her legacy withstood the test of time.

Recently, I wanted to listen to one of her recordings in honor of her music. After all, it was her birthday. I found an exquisite and pristine recording of Raag Yaman from the archives of NCPA Mumbai (April 1974). What happened next was not something I’d anticipated. Now, it’s a known fact that music, (especially Indian Classical Music) can move you in a myriad ways. It can be uplifting, grave, romantic, meditative, or playful, depending on the Raag (melodic scale) and the mood it creates. But intellectual understanding and emotional response are not the same! Barely a few minutes into playing the clip, I found myself tearing up. After a point, I couldn’t stand it anymore. The tears flowed freely and I didn’t know how (or what!) to explain to my bewildered family.

After 4 weeks of not singing or listening to Yaman, it was unbearable. The long absence from the sweet notes of this beautiful raag had left me with such deep yearning that the floodgates opened, when I pressed ‘play’. And listening to this exquisite music in my Guru Ma’s voice was almost too much to bear. It was like finding my lost mother again.

Haunted…in Berlin, Germany

Ku Damm Berlin

In October 2013, I was in Berlin on work. Our office was in the heart of Kurfürstendamm, one of the loveliest places in Berlin. As I walked back from work, I heard the most haunting piece of music on the street. It was so powerful and filled with such longing that I stood there awestruck. And out came the tears, with no warning. Imagine a short, South Indian woman (amidst really tall Germans) standing in the middle of that boulevard, in a trance-like state; eyed filled with tears, unable to express (or explain) what just happened!

I’ll never know what that piece was but I’ll never forget how it made me feel. It was almost as if the universe had conspired in my favor and assuaged my fear of not speaking German by saying: “It’s okay, sweetheart. Here, have some music, instead. It will warm the cockles of your soul.” I had a new appreciation for the Romanian philosopher E. M. Cioran’s words:  “Tears are music in material form”.

The Genius of Maria Callas

Maria Callas

A few years ago, a friend introduced me to Maria Callas, the Greek-American Soprano who defined opera music as one of the most renowned and influential performers of the 20th century. I had never heard of her before so in true musical curiosity, I ventured out to learn more. During that time, I stumbled upon this gem with 7.5 million views and her rendition of Carmen with another 4.2 million views.

Flawed, ugly, sublime, penetrating, dark, voluminous – critics have said all this and more about her voice. But beyond the grammar, analytics, and technicality lies a musician’s ability to impact a listener. And impact, she did. I was moved, inspired, and thrilled. Her voice tugged at my heart-strings. There was such a magical quality about it. The effect it had on me was inexplicable. Beyond the lyrics, there was depth, melody, and texture that touched my very soul.

Adagio in G Minor…Gallipoli

A few decades ago, while studying Australian History and reviewing Gallipoli, an Australian war film, I had heard another piece of hauntingly, beautiful music. Perhaps it’s music-related memory or maybe that the episodic memory was actually stored inside my brain cells as this new study explains. I just never forgot it. Thanks to YouTube, I found it several years later and recognized it immediately. 23 years on, it has stayed in my heart, indelibly linked to my trip and all the emotions associated with it.

The Day The Music Died…

No, this isn’t a reference to Don McLean’s revelation of the true meaning of  “American Pie“. Nor is it about the incalculable loss of the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly and his team. In fact, I see this statement as the very antithesis to how great music continues to live on, long after the musician is gone. Such is the nature of music itself. Real music has a deep voice and tenacious spirit. And the capacity to be your anchor for life.

BW Anitha Aswth Portfolio

Anitha Aswath is an HR Consultant and Strengths Coach of Leader Success in the Leadership and Team Intelligence Practice Area at Cisco. She has the unique privilege of meeting Cisco clients from all over the world to serve, teach, and enable the success of their teams. 


4 thoughts on “When Music Makes You Cry [4 Stories]”

  1. Music is universal in appeal! You just need to open your ears and your heart to take it all in. I really enjoyed reading your blog!

  2. ಎಲ್ಲಿದೆ ನಂದನ, ಎಲ್ಲಿದೆ ಬಂಧನ
    ಎಲ್ಲಾ ಇದೆ ಈ ನಮ್ಮೊಳಗೆ
    ಒಳಗಿನ ತಿಳಿಯನು ಕಲಕದೆ ಇದ್ದರೆ
    ಅಮೃತದ ಸವಿಯಿದೆ ನಾಲಿಗೆಗೆ.

    – ಜಿ. ಎಸ್. ಶಿವರುದ್ರಪ್ಪ.

    Music contains everything in it as poet GSS mentioned above.
    Just we have to dig deeper to get more and more wealth (Music).
    Thanks for the heart touching stories (Experiences).

    1. ರವಿ ಕಾಣದ್ದನ್ನು ಕವಿ ಕಂಡ ಎಂಬಂತೆ, GSS ಅವರ ಕವಿತೆಯು, ಷಡ್ಜದಷ್ಟೇ ಸಿಹಿ. ನಿಮ್ಮ ಪ್ರತಿಕ್ರಿಯೆಗೆ ಮತ್ತು ನಿಮ್ಮ ಸಮಯಕ್ಕೆ ಧನ್ಯವಾದಗಳು ಸರ್. I’m honored that you read this!

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