If I Stay

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Themes and Colors
Sacrifice and Choice Theme Icon
Music and Harmony  Theme Icon
Love, Family, and Relationships  Theme Icon
Life and Death  Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in If I Stay, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Music and Harmony  Theme Icon

The characters in If I Stay are connected by a deep love and respect for music. While a profound emotional response to music brings characters together, differences in taste and lifestyle also push them apart. Respecting the musical choices and tastes of characters in the novel therefore becomes a metaphor for accepting others for who they are, and also for accepting one’s own unique talents and tastes. This idea manifests in a motif of harmony in the novel, which comes to represent the blending of not just different notes and genres of music, but also the perfect mixing of different personality types and tastes.

Mia’s Mom and Dad, as well as her boyfriend Adam, are all lovers of rock music—as the novel is set in the punk and alternative scenes of the Pacific Northwest. Rock music is what brought together Mia’s parents, and it is what Adam loves and hopes to pursue as a career. However, Mia is a lover of classical music, a genre which is often associated with people who are quieter and more traditional, and she often feels out of place among her parents and Adam, who bond over their mutual interests and styles, to the extent that Mia often wonders if she is adopted. Yet Mia makes a concerted effort to understand the music her parents and Adam love, and her loved ones, in turn, attempt to understand her love of the cello and classical music. These efforts to reconcile and connect come to a climax when she plays the cello along with her Dad and Adam, who play the guitar. Together the three of them create a new kind of harmony, one of both people and music: classical music blends with rock, as do the personalities of people who prefer one genre to the other.

Mia is an exceptionally talented cellist, and hopes to study it at Juilliard in New York City. She is drawn to the cello because she finds it “humanlike” when she first sees one in school as a child. Her love of the cello is also symbolic of her profound appreciation for the small but close circle of people in her life. While some musicians play multiple instruments, she is drawn to and focuses all her energy on just one—just as she is very close to her immediate family, and socializes almost exclusively with Kim and Adam. Conversely, the people in her life who love rock music tend to have multiple pursuits within music, such as writing songs as well as playing them on the guitar, and they participate in a band rather than playing solo. By attempting to understand the appeal of rock music and playing in a band (an orchestra or quartet, in the case of the cello), Mia begins to open herself up, emotionally and musically. The cello is a symbol of the “family” Mia will have to return to if she decides to stay. The cello is what will bring her to New York to study at Juilliard, but it is also what will continue to separate her from Adam.

Ultimately, as Mia faces her choice of whether to follow her parents into death or stay behind and live, it is Adam playing cello music for Mia that prompts her to decide to stay. This is a metaphor for the deep understanding in the musical tastes of the other that bonds the two teenagers and is the basis for their love. When Adam and the cello are finally combined, Mia is reminded of what she will lose if she dies, and she is convinced to remain and cope with the loss of her parents.

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Music and Harmony ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Music and Harmony appears in each chapter of If I Stay. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Music and Harmony Quotes in If I Stay

Below you will find the important quotes in If I Stay related to the theme of Music and Harmony .
7:09 AM Quotes

Just like with Shooting Star’s meteoric rise, my admission to Juilliard—if it happens—will create certain complications, or, more accurately, would compound the complications that have already cropped up in the last few months.

Related Characters: Mia Hall (speaker), Adam Wilde
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:
On the morning of a snow day off from school, Mia's Dad points out a photo of Adam, Mia's boyfriend, in the newspaper. Adam is part of a local band, Shooting Star, that is quickly gaining popularity in the area. In this quote, seeing Adam and his success reminds Mia of some upcoming changes and choices in her life: if she is accepted to the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City, in order to pursue classical cello, she and Adam will have to decide whether to stay together or whether to break up due to the distance. Since Adam's entire band and fan base is in the Pacific Northwest, there is no chance of him joining her in New York City. Although the admissions decision has not yet arrived, the prospect of a change has already caused strain on Adam and Mia's relationship in the last few months. Though the cello is one of the most important things in her life, so is her relationship with Adam. Throughout the novel, Mia is frequently concerned about having to choose the cello over Adam, or the other way around, and often grapples with the pros and cons of moving to NYC, or remaining in Oregon with her family and Adam. 

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I know it’s silly but I have always wondered if Dad is disappointed that I didn’t become a rock chick. I’d meant to. Then, in third grade, I’d wandered over to the cello in music class—it looked almost human to me. It looked like if you played it, it would tell you secrets, so I started playing. It’s been almost ten years now and I haven’t stopped.

Related Characters: Mia Hall (speaker), Denny Hall (Dad)
Related Symbols: The Cello, Punk Rock and Classical Music
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

Hearing Teddy banging on his drums upstairs, Mia thinks about her family's relationship to music. Though her parents met through the punk rock music scene of the Pacific Northwest in their twenties, Mia has always been drawn to classical music. In this quote, she describes how she was drawn to the mysterious shape of the cello in the third grade, and has never looked back since. Even though Mia is very close to her family, she often wonders how she, a dark-haired classical music lover, ended up in a family of fair-haired punk rockers. A quiet, intense musician, she occasionally feels out of place among her outgoing family members. Here, she implies that her father may be prouder of Teddy's musical skills if he uses them for rock rather than classical music, like she does. She loves her family, and they are all musically talented, but Mia still feels somewhat out of place and different.

8:17 AM Quotes

As usual, there is a battle for stereo dominance. Mom wants NPR. Dad wants Frank Sinatra. Teddy wants SpongeBob SquarePants. I want the classical-music station, but recognizing that I’m the only classical fan in the family, I am willing to compromise with Shooting Star.

Related Characters: Mia Hall (speaker), Kat Hall (Mom) , Denny Hall (Dad), Teddy Hall
Related Symbols: Punk Rock and Classical Music
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:
With a free day off from school and work due to the snow, Mia's family decides to visit family friends Willow and Henry. In the car, they debate over what music to listen to during the drive. While everyone in the family loves music, they often dispute over what kinds of music to listen to, as represented in this quote—one of many instances of choice in terms of music, and compromise in terms of harmony. As shown in this example, the family members are close enough that they are always willing to compromise. In this quote, the compromise is Shooting Star, the local band that Mia's boyfriend Adam plays in. This instance is representative of the harmony that the family maintains in nearly every situation, despite their varying preferences. 
9:23 AM Quotes

Sometimes I did feel like I came from a different tribe. I was not like my outgoing, ironic dad or my tough-chick mom. And as if to seal the deal, instead of learning to play electric guitar, I’d gone and chosen the cello.

Related Characters: Mia Hall (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Cello, Punk Rock and Classical Music
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

When she was eight years old, Mia fell in love with the cello: she was drawn to the human-like shape of the instrument, and felt passionate about the music she could make in tandem with its strings. At first, her parents were incredulous about such a small girl playing a rather large instrument, particularly one that was so different from the punk rock music that they loved and listened to. However, their love of Mia meant that they were willing to put aside musical preferences to support their daughter in her interests.Though Mia never doubted that her parents were proud of her, she always felt slightly out of place among the punk, outgoing personalities of her Mom and Dad. To her, her parents' punk-rock lifestyle and her classical pursuits seemed to mean that she was inherently "uncool," despite the family she was born into. Yet, this discomfort is not enough to dissuade her from pursuing the kind of music that she loves. Once again, this quote is an example of how Mia finds herself making choices and separating herself from others, but also compromising and finding harmony with her family and friends.

I was still scared, but it was somehow comforting to think that maybe stage fright was a trait I’d inherited from Dad; I wasn’t just some foundling, after all.

Related Characters: Mia Hall (speaker), Denny Hall (Dad)
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:
Mia thinks back to her first cello recital many years ago. Scared of performing on stage, her father comforted Mia by telling her that when he performed in his own band, he, too, had crippling stage fright. Knowing that she and Dad share this trait comforts Mia, who has long been concerned about how her musical tastes, personality, and appearance differ from her parents'. While they are fair-haired and like punk music, Mia is dark-haired and prefers to play the cello. She finds enough comfort in having this shared fear with her father to have the courage to perform in the recital. This quote is representative of the fact that even though Mia is sometimes concerned with how different she is from her immediate family members, they support her in whatever she pursues. 
10:12 AM Quotes

“I’m obsessed with music and even I don’t get transported like you do.”

Related Characters: Adam Wilde (speaker), Mia Hall
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

When Adam first expresses interest in Mia, she thinks that he is perhaps making fun of her. Adam is a year older and considered popular at their high school, while Mia is known as a quiet and intense student. After watching her practice for days, Adam approaches Mia and expresses his admiration for the intensity with which she practices her cello. He tells her that he, too, enjoys music—he plays guitar in a rock band—but in this quote, he tells her that he has awe for the way in which music seems to "transport" her. Adam and Mia's mutual love for music, and their admiration for the other person's passion for music, becomes a foundation of their relationship to come. However, the differences in their musical interests—Mia's passion for classical cello, Adam's aspirations for his punk rock band—occasionally become a source of tension in the relationship. 

12:19 PM Quotes

A small part of me felt like even applying was some kind of betrayal. Juilliard was in New York. Adam was here.

Related Characters: Mia Hall (speaker), Adam Wilde
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

When it comes time to apply for college, Mia feels very torn between staying in Oregon with Adam and her family, and pursuing her dreams of playing the cello professionally in New York City. As a very talented cellist, she knows deep down that there is a chance that she could be accepted to the prestigious Julliard School, all the way across the country. If her application were to prove successful, she would find it very difficult to choose between following her dreams and continuing to stay in Oregon with those she loves. Adam, also a musician, plays in a popular local band called Shooting Star. As their fan base is on the rise in the Pacific Northwest, there is no possibility of Adam following Mia to New York. Mia feels that in even just applying to Juilliard and entertaining the idea of moving away from home, she is "betraying" her relationship with Adam. She therefore keeps her application a secret from Adam until she finds out that her preliminary audio tape has earned her an audition in San Francisco.

When we got back home, Gramps dropped me off and enveloped me in a hug. Normally, he was a handshaker, maybe a back-patter on really special occasions. His hug was strong and tight, and I knew it was his way of telling me that he’d had a wonderful time. “Me, too, Gramps,” I whispered.

Related Characters: Mia Hall (speaker), Gramps
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:
When Mia is invited to audition for the Julliard admissions panel in San Francisco, Gran initially plans to take Mia on the trip. However, she falls ill, and Gramps volunteers to take Mia instead. The two make a weekend of San Francisco, and enjoy exploring shops and restaurants together. Though Mia is very nervous for her audition, it goes very well. Unlike Gran, Gramps is quiet, and doesn't always express his love and appreciation verbally. In this quote, Gramps tells Mia that he had a wonderful weekend spending time with her not with words, but with a strong hug. Mia knows that he is telling her he loves her and is proud of her in his own way, and that is why she responds with, "Me, too, Gramps." This instance is representative of the love and support that Mia receives not only from her immediate family, but from her grandparents as well. Mia's closeness with her grandparents is one of the reasons that her decision between staying and leaving is made more difficult. 
4:47 PM Quotes

I didn’t mind. I was excited about a baby. And I knew that Carnegie Hall wasn’t going anywhere. I’d get there someday.

Related Characters: Mia Hall (speaker), Teddy Hall
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

When Mia's mother finds out that she is pregnant with Teddy, the family cancels an impending trip to New York City. Mia's parents have always been very open about the fact that neither Mia nor Teddy were planned pregnancies, a hallmark of their easygoing and spontaneous attitudes. This quote is representative of how important Teddy has always been in Mia's life, even before she was born. Though she was very excited to visit Carnegie Hall (a famous concert hall, and thus a dream for the ambitious, cello-playing Mia) and see New York City for the first time, her excitement and understanding about missing the trip due to the prospect of having a sibling trumped any feelings of disappointment. Despite her love of the cello, Mia's deep love of family has always come first. 

5:40 PM Quotes

“Mia, Mia, Mia,” he said, stroking the tendrils of my hair that had escaped from the wig. “This is the you I like. You definitely dressed sexier and are, you know, blond, and that’s different. But the you who you are tonight is the same you I was in love with yesterday, the same you I’ll be in love with tomorrow. I love that you’re fragile and tough, quiet and kick-ass. Hell, you’re one of the punkest girls I know, no matter who you listen to or what you wear.”

Related Characters: Adam Wilde (speaker), Mia Hall
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:

When Adam's band plays a show at a popular local venue on Halloween, Mia decides to go all out with her costume. With Mom's help, she dresses up as a sexy punk rock chick. As she's always felt out of place at Shooting Star's crazy concerts, Mia hopes that Adam will be impressed with her attempt to fit in with the other punk rockers. When he sees her after the show, he is shocked at her appearance, but in this quote, he tells her that he loves her for who she usually is, not for who she dresses up as. Though Mia is often worried that she's not "cool" enough for Adam, who is older and in a rock band, Adam explains that he loves her for her quiet intensity, which makes her one of the "punkest" girls he knows, despite her tamer wardrobe and musical choices. It is Adam and Mia's mutual respect and acceptance of each other allows their relationship to thrive, despite the differences in their musical tastes. 

10:40 PM Quotes

“In my ideal scenario, my bighearted pushover husband and I die quickly and simultaneously when we’re ninety-two years old…Mia plays at our funeral. If, that is, we can tear her away from the New York Philharmonic.”

Related Characters: Kat Hall (Mom) (speaker), Mia Hall, Denny Hall (Dad)
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:

In the car on the way home from a funeral, Mia's family begins to discuss what kind of funerals they hope to have one day. In this quote, Mom notes that she hopes to die at the same time as Dad, and to have Mia play for the funeral. This quote is one of morbid foreshadowing to the crash that is to happen years later: Mom and Dad do die at the same time, and if Mia decides to stay, there is a possibility that she would play at the funeral. This particular memory highlights the often dark irony of life—Mom will perhaps get her wish for her funeral, though several decades prior to when she hoped she would die. Mia recalls this conversation as she weighs the pros and cons of staying or leaving, because it represents how fleeting life can be—someone as vivacious as Mom can be here one moment, and gone in the blink of an eye. 

2:48 AM Quotes

“I’d played that part of my life out. It was time. I didn’t even think twice about it, in spite of what Gramps or Henry might think. Sometimes you make choices in life and sometimes choices make you. Does that make any sense?”

Related Characters: Denny Hall (Dad) (speaker), Gramps , Henry
Page Number: 192
Explanation and Analysis:

When Teddy is born, Dad makes the decision to leave the rock band that he has played in for many years. This makes his best friend who is also in the band, Henry, very angry with him. It also makes Gramps, who loved listening to Dad's music, very sad as well. In this quote, Dad responds to Mia's question as to why he made this decision. Dad explains to Mia that for him, it wasn't even a decision—it was simply time for him to move on with his life, and focus on his family and being a good father to Mia and Teddy. In the course of making her decision whether to stay or to leave, Mia recalls this conversation because of Dad's quip that "sometimes you make choices in life and sometimes choices make you." Here he means that sometimes in life, we don't have a choice in what happens, and it is up to us to make the most of a bad situation so one situation doesn't change us completely. When Mia decides to stay, it is ultimately because of an outpouring of love that has shown her that she must go on living in order to keep the memories of her family alive, and to see where the future takes her. 

4:57 AM Quotes

Something had happened to my playing in that audition; I had broken through some invisible barrier and could finally play the pieces like I heard them being played in my head, and the result had been something transcendent: the mental and physical, the technical and emotional sides of my abilities all finally blending.

Related Characters: Mia Hall (speaker)
Page Number: 200
Explanation and Analysis:
In this quote, Mia recalls her audition for Julliard in San Francisco. Though she was very nervous in anticipation for it, it went extremely well. As a passionate cellist, Mia seeks not just for technical perfection, but to connect with music emotionally as well. At the present moment in the novel, Mia is still unsure as to whether she has been accepted to the prestigious music school, but the prospect of continuing to play the cello is one of the major reasons why she ultimately decides to stay. For Mia, music is a way of transporting herself to another world, and also a way of connecting with those around her who love music, too—such as Mom, Dad, and Adam. By staying alive and pursuing her love of the cello, a passion that the people around her always supported, she is continuing to honor the memory of the family that encouraged her in all of her endeavors. 

“…I do know that if you want to stay and be with him, I’d support that, though maybe I’m only saying that because I don’t think you’d be able to turn down Juilliard. But I’d understand if you chose love, Adam love, over music love. Either way you win. And either way you lose. What can I tell you? Love’s a bitch.”

Related Characters: Kat Hall (Mom) (speaker), Mia Hall, Adam Wilde
Page Number: 211
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Mia and Mom discuss the difficult choice that Mia has coming up: whether to move to NYC to pursue the cello (if she is accepted to Julliard) or to stay in Oregon and attend a state school closer to Adam. This quote is significant because it parallels the extremely difficult choice that Mia must imminently make: whether to stay alive, or to join her parents and brother in death. Like with the choice between "Adam love" and "music love," each option has significant pros and cons. Mia recalls this quote because of the unconditional support that Mom always gave to her. Regardless of what she chooses, Mia knows that she has an immense amount of love waiting for her on the side of life or on the side of death. With either option she wins, and with either option she loses. The decision between life and death, like love, is a "bitch." 

5:42 AM Quotes

So I played. And even though you wouldn’t think it, the cello didn’t sound half bad with all those guitars. In fact, it sounded pretty amazing.

Related Characters: Mia Hall (speaker), Adam Wilde, Denny Hall (Dad)
Related Symbols: The Cello, Punk Rock and Classical Music
Page Number: 227
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Mia recalls an impromptu party that her family threw one Labor Day. Neighbors and friends come over, and they enjoy barbecue and watermelon together. Later in the evening, Dad and Adam begin to jam on their guitars together. They implore Mia to join them, and begrudgingly, she agrees. Though she is concerned at first that the different instruments won't sound good together, she is surprised to realize how great the two string instruments sound in harmony. This incident is a metaphor for Mia's relationship to both her parents and Adam in terms of musical taste. Though Adam, Mom, and Dad are all big fans of punk rock music, Mia prefers classical music above anything else, though she does enjoy Adam's band, Shooting Star. This difference often makes her nervous that there is something inherently incompatible about her and Adam as a couple, or as a child to her parents in the context of the family dynamic. However, the people around her are always supportive of her passion for the cello, and in instances such as this one, she is reminded of how differences between people—or instruments—can give rise to incredibly beautiful and rich experiences, relationships, and musical jam sessions. 

7:16 AM Quotes

Yo-Yo Ma continues to play, and it’s like the piano and cello are being poured into my body, the same way that the IV and blood transfusions are. And the memories of my life as it was, and the flashes of it as it might be, are coming so fast and furious. I feel like I can no longer keep up with them but they keep coming and everything is colliding, until I cannot take it anymore. Until I cannot be like this one second longer.

Related Characters: Mia Hall (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Cello, Punk Rock and Classical Music
Page Number: 232
Explanation and Analysis:

In a last-ditch effort to rouse Mia out of her coma, Adam puts headphones over Mia's ears. He presses "play" on an iPod, and the music of Yo-Yo Ma (whom they saw in concert for their first date) floods her ears. Despite all of the reminiscing and flashbacks that Mia has thought of during the last few hours since the accident, it is this music that triggers the most emotion. It is this overwhelming feeling of how much she loves music, and how much she loved making and feeling this music with the people around her, that brings Mia to the place where she knows without a doubt that she cannot leave. She knows that to honor the memories of her family, it is her duty to remain alive—this way, she can continue to make music and keep that love alive. Though Teddy, Mom, and Dad are gone, music, combined with the love of the friends and family members who remain alive, will transport her to a place of comfort, even in the face of grief.