The Power of Music

Joyce Parry-Moore - Livermore, California
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, August 9, 2013
Joyce Parry-Moore

Around the time Joyce Parry-Moore was faced with a diagnosis of breast cancer, she also had an opportunity to sing the Verdi Requiem with the Juneau Symphony. Ms. Parry-Moore now believes in the healing power of the music and that moment.

Age Group: 30 - 50

I believe in the healing power of music. I’m a singer. As long as I can remember, I’ve understood the way that singing sets my body to vibrating and puts me at one with the universe. But never have I been as aware as two weeks ago, gratefully singing with the Juneau Symphony the soaring melodies of the Verdi Requiem.

It was a moment I’d dreamed of for many years, to solo in that amazing work. But only a Creator full of divine imagination could have dreamt the journey that would lead me to it in the frontiers of Alaska. Imagine: after years of discipline and sacrifice developing a singing career, to suddenly have my heart cracked open through the simultaneous fires of breast cancer and Guiseppi Verdi. Who knew?

There is a tendency to assume that, when facing a serious illness, one must strive for constant peace and contemplation. Although this is a great ideal, you know, sometimes you just feel lousy and you want to scream your fool head off! And that is Sacred too. I remember when, as a passionate teenager trapped in the banality of suburbia, the only place within my Judeo-Christian tradition that could adequately express my range of emotions were the Psalms, full of angst and so flat-out human that I felt safe in them. It’s that way with Verdi’s Requiem: along with moments of complete beauty and transcendence, he gives us aggressive rhythms that express the more raw parts of our experience. His music—all great music—is not simply a lovely diversion. It is a physical Force in the world, capable of doing great good.

I’ve been through a few things physically—having borne two children, and raised five, broken my back (literally) as well as my heart, and now am entering the surreal journey of chemo-therapy. But so far nothing quite equals the experience I had on that Sunday afternoon, singing the “Libera Me”: percussion reverberating into my bones, the breath of a hundred chorus members pouring into my back, the vibrations of each instrument rocking me forward like a great wind. Awake and alive, I flew on the combined desire of dozens of friends, colleagues and loved ones, at once privately and publicly at Peace.

Yes, I will undergo the rigors of my treatment, and like so many other, braver women before me have successfully done, will emerge stronger, more Real. But truth is: I’ve already been healed. For I believe this: no cancer cell could have possibly withstood the power of that moment we all shared. The rightness of that great music has re-aligned my being, and I’m good to go.

The Rev. Joyce Parry Moore is now an Episcopal priest and rector of St. Bartholomew's Church in Livermore, CA. She lives there with her husband, 13-year-old daughter, and two dogs, who are all patiently waiting for her to finish her Doctorate dissertation in Pastoral Counseling. Her book, Breast Dancer: One Alaskan Soprano's Journey from Cancer to Priesthood, will be out in September, and is available on her website, Everyday Priestess.

Recorded by KTOO in Juneau, Alaska and produced by Dan Gediman for This I Believe, Inc.