I can’t explain it—I don’t know that anyone has, adequately—but I believe that some pieces of music have magic baked into them.
The finale of the musical Candide, a song called “And Make Our Garden Grow,” simultaneously thrills me and reduces me to a puddle of tears. I think it’s got something to do with the chords Leonard Bernstein wrote. Or maybe it’s the thrill of hearing many voices united in song. When the full chorus comes in, the orchestra drops out and the sound is just glorious.
And then there’s “Sunday,” the first act finale of Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George. We watch the painter Georges Seurat combine the elements of the painting he’s been working on through the entire act. As the entire company—playing different characters in the artwork—assembles itself into the familiar image, their voices grow in intensity and the music grows in complexity and…Like I said, magic. I love this concert video because you can see how moved Sondheim is when he realizes what piece they’re starting to sing. But if you want to see the song as it was staged in the original production, deal with the short ad and watch it at the 1984 Tony Awards.
One of my favorite lyricists, Yip Harburg—most people know him as the lyricist of The Wizard of Oz—once explained
“Words make you think a thought. Music makes you feel a feeling. A song makes you feel a thought.”
I love Yip. But for me these songs are pure feeling. And magic. Can’t forget the magic.