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Chords, melodies and feelings

I recently heard a concert performed by Anaïs Mitchell and the Bonny Light Horseman at the Gogue Performing Arts Center in Auburn.  I must confess, I was not familiar with the artists prior to the performance though they were obviously talented and skilled musicians and songwriters.  Their long list of awards confirms their leading role in the new folk art area of music.  

While I enjoyed the music, the lyrics, the atmosphere, and the performance in general, the thought that kept popping up in my mind that evening and the next day was a comment that Mitchell made between songs.  She said that all a songwriter needed was a chord, a melody, and feelings.  

Can it really be that simple?  The more I thought about it, I came to believe those words could also be a blueprint for a happy and successful life.  

If a non-musician looks up the definition of chords, it will likely confuse them.  They are complicated to understand and even more complicated to define in words.  However, to a musician they are a basic part of the structure.  They bring different notes together and make them seem as one.   They are the foundation of music. 

The melody is the part the public might be most familiar with.  It is the overlying message, often simple and dominant, in more complicated pieces of music.  Everyone is familiar with the melodies of “Silent Night”, “Amazing Grace”, or even the tune made famous by Aretha Franklin when she belted out the words to “RESPECT”. 

The final component is feelings.  Emotion.  The capturing in words and song that tugs at the heartstrings.  Who has not heard a song that was sad, with disappointment, grief, or hopelessness?  On the other hand, who does not remember music that was happy, with joy, contentment, or satisfaction?  That leaves fear, anger, surprise, and disgust.  Those are the 10 basic feelings.

Music is a universal language in a world that needs more understanding and compassion than ever.  Our world is so complicated, often beyond our understanding.  Could it be that music holds the key?

Chords are the foundation.  Melodies are the message.  Feelings are the emotional connection that bind those two together and let the music and words go beyond our brains to our hearts.  

When I think about my own life, I think about the things my parents, grandparents and the village that raised me taught me.  Right and wrong.  Good work ethic. Responsibility for your own actions.  Looking out for others less fortunate than you.  These are the chords of my life.

The melody is more refined.  My love of certain things more individual to my life.  My love of my parents and extended family, of course.  The bond that my brother and sister share, rooted deep even though we live different lives in different places today.  It is church and school.  Friends from every step of my path.  It is a wonderful wife and our children and grandchildren.  Our children’s own life partners.  It is a marvelous melody rivaling anything that Bach or Mozart ever composed.  It is the song of my life.

The chords and notes are meaningless without feelings.  Despite the ten feelings I previously mentioned, I think of love first and foremost.  The love of spouse, children, family, but also of friends, past and present.  I think of those who were in and out of my life, who affected me in ways I may never know.  

Chords, melodies, and feelings.  Basic foundations, the intertwining message and connections throughout our lives, and the emotional ties that make life joyous and painful.  Ecstatic and challenging.  Happy and sad.  Life as we know it.  It is what it is. 

I am particularly mindful of these things as I work with an extraordinary group of my high school class in planning our 50th high school reunion.  They remind me that friends are forever.  They may be friends in passing or friends for a lifetime.  Their touch, no matter how brief, impacts my life.    

Once upon a time, almost 600 students wrestled with our chords, melodies, and feelings.  We were the first high school class to graduate with all three years having been integrated.  In an approaching weekend in June, the class of 1972 of Dothan High School and Houston Academy will meet, celebrate, and beyond all odds actually stand together and sing the same song.  How ironic is it that our class song was “Feelings”?  

Chords, Melodies and Feelings.  God’s path for our class and for us all. 


Dan Ponder can be reached at

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