I was pondering this question again this weekend. Roughly three months ago George, a singer in the music group Celtic Thunder died suddenly and quite unexpectedly of a heart attack, at the ripe old age of 45. I am a Celtic Thunder fan, and I had met him a couple times, briefly, when the group came through Colorado on tour last year and in 2013, but I still barely knew him. Yet, thinking about how I experienced losing him, I certainly was a lot more attached to the guy than I ought to have been for knowing him so little.
A few years ago Ryan, another member of that group had a serious accident that left him in a coma for weeks, and again, that upset me very much, even though at that time I had not actually met any of the members of that singing group. After Ryan recovered I resolved to at least meet him once, by buying a ticket to the next nearby Celtic Thunder show and being in the autograph line afterward, because it bugged me that I was so attached to a man I didn’t know. I must admit I also had a major crush on Ryan, one that had not subsided much since I’ve met him a few times, but that was not sufficient to explain why Ryan mattered, and still matters so much to me. (I am a very reserved person and absolutely never admit to having crushes without feeling silly and childish, by the way, so when I met him, I’ve always tried to keep my silly crushes to myself.)
Now, after a few years and having been to 3 Celtic Thunder shows, I have at least met most of the group. Still, I have to wonder about the psychology of why they matter so much. Celtic Thunder generally does not perform new songs, just covers of popular songs and arrangements of traditional songs, so they are not originating new music that adds songs I didn’t already know to my life. And, I was a music blogger for the past 2 years, so I have lots of musician friends who I know, and am actually friends with, not just a fan. Some of the musicians I met as a blogger are among my most supportive friends now as I am starting to develop myself as a professional writer. I have noticed that I focus a lot less on what the Celtic Thunder msuicians and Josh Groban and other distant celebrities are doing, now that I have more real friends who write and perform music I love and that is a part of my life. I have a healthier perspective on music celebrities now that my friends include people who tour with bands and perform on stages around the world.
Still, George’s death was a personal loss to me, almost as if he were one of the musicians I used to hang out with at the local venues. And if Ryan, Neil, Keith, Colm or Emmet died this year, too, I’d really be a mess. Why?
I’m still pondering this question, but I think it has something to do with the personal nature of good music. One of the most memorable concert moments so far in my concert-going life was hearing Celtic thunder perform “She Moved Through the Fair” live at the Budweiser Events Center. The ‘room’ was big and not one with the best acoustics, and there are always lots of really annoying screaming fans at their shows, but for this song the whole events center was quiet, and the harmonies that the Celtic Thunder singers wove during that concert were so close to perfect that you could feel the dissonant tension as a palpable hum in the air. I could never really know how anyone else in that space experienced that song that night, but for me it was magical, and for those few minutes I wasn’t really aware of the uncomfortable seats, the unattractive venue, or anything else but the music and its spell. That song was in a very real sense a personal connection between the singers and the listeners, one that carried not just the song’s story, but all the emotions that the song and the arrangement communicated. And, sharing a moment like that with someone, even if it is in an impersonal space like that events center, is a lot more intimate than most conversations I would expect to have with my friends.
Not every musical moment is magic, but enough of them are, and any time a musician connects with you through their music, they are sharing a conversation full of emotions and ideas and experiences that over time mean that you do know them, even if you can’t always put into words what you know. And the musicians are the people who put into words and sounds all those thoughts and feelings you find hard to express. When they sing a song that describes how you are feeling, they are telling you that they understand how you are feeling. They say the words we need to hear, and give us the words we need to say, and in that way they become a part of our lives that is greatly missed when they are gone.