When I was eight years old, my oldest sister, Karen, who is nine years older, took me to a Grateful Dead concert. I will never forget it. It was my first rock concert, and I remember so clearly feeling the reverberations of the thumping bass in my chest. They put me up on the stage, and I danced with the Grateful Dead. I was hooked. After that, Karen took me to hear many other bands, and that is how her "hippie" generation shared experiences shaped my musical taste.
As a music therapist, I believe music is a tool of unparalleled dimensions that can be used to connect the generations. No matter your age or experience, music is a medium through which emotions are expressed.
I was reminded of that experience on a recent trip to New Orleans, when I spent a day at the 40th annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. It had been a few years since I'd been to "Jazz Fest," as the music lovers who frequent the festival call it, and I was captivated-as I had been during previous visits by the multigenerational experience. I felt as if I'd been dipped in the living history of 20th-century music by the end of the day thoroughly saturated with the variety jazz, rock, bluegrass, Zydeco, gospel, folk, blues, and more. I was in my element, joining together with music and people of all ages. There are more than a dozen stages there, and not a single one was age-segregated. Even the kid's tent had parents and grandparents clapping and singing and wiggling with the little ones.
Despite the huge crowds, I ran into old friends who are native New Orleanians and Jazz Fest regulars. I have fond memories of long Jazz Fest days with them, followed by longer evenings at their home. But times have changed a bit: Karen and Phil Martin, both age 61, now had their three-year-old grandson, D.J., in tow. They seemed to be having as good a time as ever dancing in the hot sun, but this time they beat out the rhythms of the live music on the tray of his stroller.
Karen and Phil (known as "Mamma K" and "Opa" to their grandson) say they like to expose their grandson to all different musical genres. D.J. is acquiring an ear from hanging around his grandparents. "I'll drive him to school in the morning, and he'll identify what kind of music I'm playing. He'll say, 'That's Mardi Gras music,' or 'That's Rock-n-Roll!'," Karen said. "Music can bring out the same emotions across the generations. I sing with him, and we dance together. It's something we can enjoy together equally."
Indeed, music can be a great equalizer. A three-year-old can sing "Happy Birthday" just as well as a 93-year-old. And I'll never forget happy times I spent dancing with my granddaddy, C.V., to old 45s on my grandparents' ancient phonograph. From "I'm an Old Cow Hand" to "You Ain't Nothing But a Hound Dog," the songs gave us a chance to boogie down together he in his 90s and me in my 20s.
Even when tastes differ among the generations, open minds and ears can forge connections when a teen or young adult turns a parent, aunt, uncle, or grandparent on to new music. A fellow boomer, Diane Fender, age 48, told me about a special connection her husband and daughter share through music. "Roger was never a country music fan until Elise, our daughter, was in high school," said Fender. "She lived all her life in Nashville and loves country to the heart of her soul. Now a love for country music (some old, but mostly new) is one of their father-daughter connections. They share music from iPod to iPod and talk about it across continents."
Carol Cober, also a boomer, finds that her young adult daughter, Laura, has widened her musical horizons. "Sometimes I catch myself driving in the car with the radio tuned to her rap and hip-hop stations," Cober said, "and sometimes I actually LIKE what I hear!"