Music exerts a powerful influence on us. It can boost memory and mental alertness, improve exercise, task endurance, and response to pain; it can lighten moods, deepen sleep, and reduce anxiety, blood pressure, depression and fatigue. “There are few things that stimulate the brain the way music does,” says one Johns Hopkins otolaryngologist. “If you want to keep your brain engaged throughout the aging process, listening to or playing music is a great tool. It provides a total brain workout.
Musician Stuart Matthews agrees. “I always enjoyed music growing up,” he recalled. “My mother was always in the church choir, and she had a couple of songs she could play by ear. The piano wasn’t always tuned, but she made it sound beautiful.” His father was also a gifted singer, but Stuart didn’t discover that until after he passed. In the 1950s, his father and some of his high school friends had been invited by a local station to perform some of their music on live TV. Stuart lamented, “It broke my heart to find out that my dad was very musical, but I never heard him sing. I had no idea how talented he was.” Stuart discovered his own musical talent in elementary school. “We had a couple of wonderful music teachers. Each year we would do a spring festival. We would [perform] songs and dances in the big gym. We thought we’d hit the big time! The place probably held 500 people, but in our minds it was like being in Madison Square Garden. We thought it was the grandest thing,” he recalled. In sixth grade he tried out for band and got a trumpet. “The first few days I was able to practice inside, but after that Mom thought it was better if I got some ‘fresh air’.” He played on top of the doghouse to their faithful dog and the cattle grazing in the field behind him. “I probably looked like Snoopy,” he quipped. By high school, “music made sense, and I was really able to make some good sounds,” he recalled. Good enough to earn him a scholarship to Oklahoma University where he “got to do some fun stuff in the Pride of Oklahoma. I went all the way from the dog house to the Orange Bowl. It was a fantastic journey with music,” he said. Once when practice got rained out, the band warmed up in OU stadium’s Santee Lounge. “It was an echo chamber,” Stuart recalled. “In my mind, I can still see, can still smell, can still hear the group, 325 people blasting away. My ears were ringing forever. That moment–to feel Boomer Sooner as we played, all of us giving 100%–will always be in my mind. I can still see the pure color and smell the aroma of that room. Those memories are just huge.” “After college, I thought I was done,” Stuart confessed. “I thought the music was wasted until, a couple of years later, the opportunity opened up [to lead worship] at a small church in Duncanville.” He then led at other churches, sang at weddings and funerals, toured with a quartet, and eventually became the host of the annual LifeLine Gospel Concert. “It was a lot of fun to see how many outlets God provided for music. Music is always a wonderful outlet.” One of those outlets was to perform with world-renown singers like Larnelle Harris, Michael W. Smith and CeCe Wynans, along with a 300-voice choir and full orchestra, when the Young Messiah Tour came to Reunion Arena in Dallas. Stuart was one of 16 vocalists “that they stationed up there to be the ‘praise team’ for these artists,” Stuart recalled. “Somehow, by God’s providence, I was assigned to be next to Larnelle Harris when we sang “Go Tell It On The Mountain’. His voice just goes into the stratosphere. I gained half an octave that night on pure adrenaline singing along with him. In my mind, I can still feel the lights, and feel the floor shaking, and see him at my shoulder, and feel the amazement of standing right there with him and singing right along with him.”
Music was not only Stuart’s joy in the good times, but his comfort and hope in the bad times. From age 17, he suffered with strength-sapping health issues, was sick all through his 20s and had cancer at age 29. “God provided a new strength to keep moving on. He wasn’t done with me yet. I figured I’d make the most of every moment I had,” he said. Then on 9/11, he lost his business and his home. “We went from having $15 million in stock, from being on the giving side and having everything going great for the future, to having zero and living in a grandmother’s spare bedroom for a while. “You quickly realize you need your foundation to be on the Solid Rock. We were still alive, still able to put one foot in front of the other. We were grateful for that. I was grateful for that.” Later, “relationship things went off track. It was heartbreaking, but I learned that God’s grace is sufficient to get us through those things and He’s proven faithful.”
Music can bring others comfort as well. Stuart explains, “People may have lost the ability to remember family members’ names or past history, but a hymn that is a memory in their heart will bring them back to life, and they will sing right along with it, every word, with a smile on their face, and it recaptures the joy that may have escaped them.” “I sing at a lot of funerals,” Stuart continued. “My kids give me a hard time for being known as the funeral singer. I come back at them with, ‘People are dying to hear me.’” One of his most requested songs is “I Fell On My Knees and Cried ‘Holy’”. “I have sung it hundreds–maybe a thousand times,” Stuart said. It tells of a person who arrives in heaven, walks the streets of gold, meets saints of old and loved ones who have gone on before, and ultimately comes face to face with Jesus. “It’s a beautiful story of the destiny we have as Christians. We can go through temporary afflictions knowing that on the other side there’s joy unspeakable and glory. That’s a wonderful thought to move us forward. The beautiful thing about music, whether it’s instrumental or vocal, is that it can touch the ears, touch the heart, and touch the mind. It can either help return us to a happier time, a happier memory, or it can give us hope for the future.” The soundtrack to Stuart’s life might surprise some. “If somebody looked at my playlist, they would think I have a mental illness! I love the Blues, country, good old rock and roll, symphony, Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, AC/DC and DC Talk. Sometimes l kick it over to classical, like Dvorsak or Brahams and enjoy the peacefulness of it. You might find me mowing slowly because I’ve got Gregorian chants in my ear buds. Usually it’s me and Stevie Ray Vaughan. I appreciate any kind of music. I’m deep in it,” he says. “A good song is just story-telling with rhythm and notes. The songs that have lasted throughout our lifetimes are basically telling a story, putting our hearts into it, knowing that the song is going to touch the heart and mind, and creating a sensory experience,” Stuart explains. “When I sing, I have a 3-5 minute opportunity to take someone on a tour through the story. If I can do that clearly through the words, through tonality, through volume and voice quality, it’s almost like bringing [the audience] into an art gallery. It takes all I’ve got to tell the story. Once the music ends, and the lights go down, whatever emotional consequence–joy, exuberance, anticipation, whatever it is in the crowd–just erupts from telling that story. I just want to be a good story-teller.” “Joy is really a decision,” Stuart added. “I had to learn to choose joy, and lean on joy to get me through.” In those difficulties, hymns like “It Is Well With My Soul”, which was written by Horatio Spafford, a man who had just lost his family at sea, and his business in a fire, brought Stuart great comfort. “How in the world can this guy be writing ‘It Is Well With My Soul?’ But God carries us through, and He is faithful even if His plan or His timing is not what we want. Music can speak to us. Words written centuries ago are still effective today.”