Eileen Kern

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Sad Song Saturday: The Value of Stories and Public Sadness

I recently attended a party called “Sad Song Saturday.” A musician friend decided it would be a hoot to invite her friends to sing the saddest songs they could imagine. The night featured old standbys and new compositions (as well as a lot of talent spanning several generations). The party was an incredible hit–attendees easily filled two rooms (and sprawled into two more) and reports suggest that the party continued until two in the morning.

Sad Cupcakes from Sad Song Saturday

Sad Cupcakes:
Photo provided by Dan Whitener

I attended with Dan Whitener who prepared a guitar accompaniment so that I could sing Savage Garden’s “Two Beds and a Coffee Machine.” I selected this song because it’s beautifully written, relatively simple to sing, and one of the saddest songs I could remember.

Over the course of the evening, I spent a good deal of time thinking about the value and space for sadness at a party. Of course, we were all there to entertain (and there were tissue-box prizes for standout performances in a variety of categories). Some of the songs featured a solo singer and instrumentalist, like Dan’s rendition of “When I Stop Dreaming.” Some featured a full 4+ person band. Some didn’t sound sad; perhaps they had a bluegrass or jazz vibe that created a more upbeat feel even as the lyrics told a sadder story. Certainly when I stood up there, my goal was to create a stark, sad sound.

Sad Prizes at Sad Song Saturday

“Top Tear” Saddest Song Award 2014:
Photo provided by Dan Whitener

My background as a musician (it feels strange to type that phrase) involves years of training in storytelling. My high school voice class valued communicating the meaning and emotion of a song over vocal ornamentation or raw talent. It is because of this background that I jumped at the chance to perform at an event called “Sad Song Saturday.” I knew I could tell a sad story through song.

The party itself was not a sad party, although it was not tear-less either. I couldn’t help but think about what draws people to experience sad stories in a public setting–whether it be listening to sad songs or watching a sad movie while it’s still in theaters.

An article from PSMag suggests the following:

Researchers led by Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick of Ohio State University have tentatively proposed some answers. In the journal Communication Research, they present evidence that watching tragedy inspires self-reflection, which allows us to re-focus on the people in our lives we might otherwise take for granted. The melancholy emotions these tales arouse ultimately provoke pleasant feelings of gratitude. […]
In other words, contentment breeds complacency. Tragedy wakes us up, reminds us that horrible things can and do happen, and inspires us to appreciate what we have. What’s not to love about that?

Perhaps, then, the reason we do seek out sad stories with others–going to a sad movie with a close friend, for example–is to share that moment of reflection with them, and to have someone for whom to be grateful when the sadness of the moment passes? Please leave your thoughts in the comments if you have another take on the topic.
And make sure to take the time to enjoy some sad cupcakes with a loved one.