by Tara Johnson
“Where words fail, music speaks.” ~ Hans Christian Andersen
Many people are surprised to learn my degree is in music, not literature or English. For quite some time, I toyed with the idea of music therapy as a profession after visiting homes where children who suffered from brain damage, trauma, autism, and a variety of other issues lived. I would come in to sing songs and play instruments, and these sweet kids, who lay nearly comatose, would suddenly come alive. Their muscles jumped. Their heads moved. Their mouths opened and their fingers twitched, aching to follow the rhythm, to join in the music making.
God wired us for music.
Psychologists and scientists have discovered listening to music can raise heart rates and body temperature, make your skin more conductive to electricity (hence goose bumps when your favorite song gives you the chills), activate pleasure centers in the brain, change the way you perceive time and taste, defuse pain, recover memories, and reroute language.
In my latest novel, All Through the Night, Cadence Piper suffers from stuttering, an impairment which has plagued her from childhood. When a phrenologist denounces her as mentally deficient, Cadence fears she has lost her father’s respect . . . until she finds freedom from the dreaded malady in singing. Growing up with my own stuttering issues, I found hope doing the same, as did other famous singers like Ed Sheeran and Kendrick Lamar.
I based Cadence Piper on real-life Civil War woman Elida B. Rumsey. Elida desperately wanted to become a nurse but was turned away by Dorothea Dix because of her youth and pretty face. The one thing Elida could do was sing.
In the fall of 1861, a group of emaciated Union prisoners were sent to Washington, DC, as part of a prisoner exchange. As they marched through the muddy streets, their depressed expressions were witnessed by the town’s citizens. A Navy department clerk name John Fowle asked Elida to sing for them. As she lifted her voice to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the men’s downtrodden spirits roused. They threw their knapsacks on the ground, piling them around her feet so she could climb atop to be better seen by the growing crowd. When she finished singing patriotic songs, the soldiers cheered, standing taller than they had moments before. As the men departed to face their future, Elida knew she too had a calling . . . to sing and serve the hurting, wherever they might be.
In both Elida’s and Cadence’s stories, they believed contentment would be found in the acclaim of nursing, but what their hearts truly longed for was an opportunity to encourage. To give. To love.
Elida Rumsey longed to be known as a nurse, but history paints her greatest contribution as “Songbird of the North.” Sometimes, what we consider our greatest weakness becomes our greatest ministry.
“Music is the balm that heals the forlorn ache of a distant star.” ~ Don Williams
Tara Johnson is a passionate lover of stories who uses fiction, nonfiction, song, and laughter to share her testimony of how God led her into freedom after spending years living shackled to the expectations of others. Tara is the author of three novels set during the Civil War: Engraved on the Heart, Where Dandelions Bloom, and All Through the Night, which released earlier this month.
A member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Tara makes her home in Arkansas with her husband and three children. Visit her online at tarajohnsonstories.com. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
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