So I was on the way home from the park with the kids today, and an old, favorite song I hadn’t heard for ages came on the car stereo. (Notice I say stereo and not radio. I don’t listen to the radio anymore because a) I am an old person, and it all sounds like the same old noise to me, and b) I haven’t yet found a station that will play my particular, weird mix of Diana Krall, The Cure, and The Black Keys.) Anyway: stereo. I found myself grinning while the song played, and flashing back to a time when I’d sat in the car with a college friend, listening to that same song, and laughing about what dorks we were for liking it. Before I knew it, I was awash in memories of this friend: hanging out and talking in his living room, going hiking, that one time we tried to go an a date (disastrous!), and so many other silly little moments–vivid snapshots of a certain time and place and person.
At times like these, I find myself musing not just on friendship and good times, but on the incredible power music can have.
Music has been such a big part of my life for so long that I almost don’t even know where to begin to talk about it. When I was growing up, I was surrounded by music. My father has an extraordinary, operatic tenor voice, and every few years he’d spend several months at a time preparing to play the romantic lead in some musical theater production or other.
I learned show tunes by rote, with a bit of opera on the side. When I was very young, before they divorced, I sometimes got to hear my grandparents sing together, and they were wonderfully talented. My aunts on that side both sang, too, and it was just sort of part of the family identity: we were musical.
But I think it was sometime around age 12 when I really began to understand the power of music. I would make mix tapes while hanging out with my girlfriends–fun, silly, pop-song-laden tapes–but when I came home, I made tapes of my own. Certain music, in my view, was meant just for me. The songs that I had an emotional connection to were not to be shared with friends, but listened to alone, in the dark, on the floor of my bedroom, while lying on my back and absorbing the sound and emotion that filled my room. I’m not sure I’ve ever lost that sense of privacy with music. Certain songs still touch me, deeply, and I want almost to keep them to myself–not sharing them with anyone, lest that person not understand. (One of the reasons I knew I could trust my husband was because he was one of the few who always did.)
Aside from “my” songs, though, I have always wanted to share music with others. I was a fairly gifted pianist in my youth, and that was a good outlet for a number of years. Once I found, though, that I was required to stick to the dynamics on the page and express myself in the composer’s terms and not my own, I was out. Instead, I began to sing.
I have always found singing to be an intimidating thing. Growing up with such a family history of talent, I have always been nervous and insecure about whether I will sound “good enough.” Singing solos in choir and even winning a couple of awards in high school helped a bit, but I still felt lacking. Finally, my dad offered voice lessons, and I felt like a whole new world unfolded for me–I could open up and sing LOUDLY. I could take huge breaths and cover long phrases. But more importantly, I found I could finally express myself. People speak of runner’s high, but no one really mentions singer’s high–there’s a freedom in letting go of fear and allowing your voice to soar, vibration ringing in your head and ears, and feeling every part of your body involved in the moment. Verdi and Puccini must have written their arias with just those sorts of feelings in mind–that soaring, ringing freedom. Knowing what that feels like, it’s definitely hard to ever sing quietly again. 🙂
These days, I don’t feel (as) insecure when I sing. But I do feel the great responsibility that comes as a person who loves music. I know its ability and power to transform. I know how deeply it can touch the soul, and how it can soothe the troubled spirit. I know, too, how quiet moments enhanced by reverent song can allow us to hear the things we most deeply need to know. Most things I’m asked to do at church relate to music, and though it’s standard to roll one’s eyes at being one of the “music people” who gets stuck in those jobs, I find myself more grateful every year for the opportunities I have had to share music, and the meaning it has to me, with other people. I feel extraordinarily blessed to have been able to share, that way, in little moments of other people’s lives.
And with that, here–I’ll be brave. Here’s my current favorite:
Do you think it’s too late for me to learn to play the cello?