Musical Space: Gratitude

Nov 21, 2017

Most music concerns itself with basic and raw emotions like love, sadness and anger - and can do a very good job expressing them. Other emotions, like gratitude, are more sophisticated and abstract, which makes them very difficult to bring across in sound. We have a whole holiday devoted to thankfulness, but there’s not a lot of music attached to it - we don’t sing Thanksgiving carols or do Thanksgiving dances. But gratitude is one of our most mature and evolved sentiments; it raises the question: Can music put us in a state of being thankful?

This is the third movement of Beethoven’s String Quartet number 15, which he called a “hymn of thanksgiving of a convalescent to the Deity,” which he wrote after getting over a serious illness. I think he nails it: The movement is utterly free of tension and negativity. It is, after all, impossible to be negative and thankful at the same time. This is an acknowledgement of a positive thing given as a gift, a point of view that is, by definition, unselfish.

But I don’t mean to say that only classical music can express thankfulness. “Thank You” by Sly and the Family Stone says it just as well. And Larry Graham’s performance on this song is the very first recorded example of slap bass, for which I am eternally thankful.

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Listening list:

Chris Thile, “Thanks for Listening,” (Live broadcast from Prairie Home Companion, 2/18/17),
New album, “Thanks for Listening,” comes out Dec. 8
“Since becoming the American Public Media program's host, Thile has, each week, written one new (often topical) "Song of the Week" that gets its debut performance on that Saturday's live broadcast—with Thile, the house band, and some of his guest musicians. For Thanks for Listening, Thile and producer Thomas Bartlett chose ten songs from nineteen possibilities and created new studio recordings of them.“

Descendents, “Thank You,” Everything Sucks (1996)
First album after a long hiatus. A message to an unnamed musician: “thank you for playing the way you play”.

Sam and Dave, “I Thank You,” 1968

Buddy Guy, “Thank Me Someday,” Living Proof (2010)
Buddy was 74 when he recorded this; it charted higher than any of his albums over the previous 50 years.

Ani DiFranco, Gratitude,” So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter (2002) (Live at Carnegie Hall)

Big Star, “Thank You, Friends” Third/Sister Lovers (1974)

And, for dessert:
Al Jarreau, “Sweet Potato Pie,” We Got By, 1975
His first album: “...anyone who’s had sweet potato pie don’t ever want pumpkin again”.

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