Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Musical Pathos

One afternoon when I was probably of grade school age, someone put on Peter, Paul and Mary's 10-year anniversary compilation record. As the melancholy notes of "Puff, the Magic Dragon" filled the house, suddenly a lump rose in my throat and I found myself unable to check the tears. Maybe I was young enough that I sat in my mom's lap to cry myself dry--I don't recall. I do remember feeling embarrassed by this inexplicable outburst of emotion.

Oddly enough, CP has a similar story of childhood tears triggered by Peter, Paul and Mary. He was no more than eight years old and had been fighting over a chair with his younger brother. His mom declared an end to their blubbering to her. Minutes later, when CP came to her in tears, he had to explain that they were not due not to the squabble, but to the song they were listening to, called "Blue," on P, P & M's 1964 "In Concert" album. (The song is part of a comedy routine that lists "pathos" as one of the essential elements of children's songs.)

Recently CP and I were pleased with ourselves for co-writing a song in a single evening. It's a lullaby, rather clever, and lovely, if I do say so myself. To our dismay, we've noticed that whenever we perform it for the target audience, her lower lip protrudes and trembles and she starts sobbing in heart-breaking four-month-old style. Could it be that the sweetness of the music evokes a wordless melancholy, even in such a young heart?


  1. Entirely possible. When N-boy was younger there were quite a number of songs that made him cry. Pathos. Thanks for putting a name to what evoked such a reaction in him.

  2. You reminded me that as a three-year-old (or four or five? Mom could tell you) I also burst into tears while listening to a tape of Arnold Lobel's "Owl At Home" book after listening to it innumerable times. I can still hear the tune of the background music in my head. And I still have a copy of the book (actually, two) on my shelf.