(Imagine music playing in the background…)

The Echo on the counter flashes blue when I speak a request to Alexa. Her soothing voice responds and in less than a minute, Classic vinyl on Sirius spools into the heated kitchen. I hum along as I knead the dough for Grandma Jenny’s specialty pastries or poke cabbage leaves into thumbprint rolls filled with ground beef and pork, a New Year’s tradition. Later, I sort through the collection of holiday CDs, play them all in batches, find the memory hidden in each song. Then, while the dough rises and the rolls simmer in their sauerkraut bath, I sing along, unmindful of my off-key notes. Music wraps its magic arm around my heart and carries me away.

Later, my oldest daughter texts me with a question: “Remember those songs you used to play during the holidays when we were kids?” (I do…still have the CDs to prove it!) “I’m playing them now,” she sends. And just like that, the melodies that framed one of the most significant periods of my life come roaring back…earworms for the hour and the day and the week. Music has that wondrous ability to serve as counterpoint for events great and small, to remind us, with only a few notes, of our history.

In “Twelfth Night,” Duke Orsino proclaims, “If music be the food of love, play on.” Having spent the past month sating my soul on holiday songs instrumental and lyrical, I find myself in complete agreement. Music feeds the impulse to create even as it feeds on story for inspiration and narrative thrust. The use of music to augment the plot of Shakespeare’s wondrous play illustrates the coupling of the Greek embodiments of the arts and knowledge with the literary output of writers throughout history.

There is a connective tissue that binds melody and the literary mind. Over the years, I have found myself attempting to reproduce musical rhythms in the cadence of my poems, to implement the pacing of a sonata in a short story, of a symphony in a novel. The recurrence of motif is not peculiar to one creative form. Rather, it permeates all art.

Each of us, then, is part of a personal symphony, at times discordant, melancholy, and sad. Other times the soundtrack of our lives soars, triumphant and victorius. Regardless of where we find ourselves at this turning of the year, I sincerely hope we can put together a selection of songs to inspire and rejuvenate us, to lift us up and carry us away. And if, at times, we find ourselves at the proverbial loss for words, let us recall what Hans Christian Anderson proclaimed: “Where words fail, music speaks.”