Music and Me

Admittedly I’ve felt at a crossroads lately. There’s been a lot of change going on. All of it has been necessary, not all of it has been easy, and it’s obviously brought about a lot of reflection and reminiscing. A few posts back I talked about my participation in the cult of libraries, which definitely was part of my upbringing in a hardcore way. There’s something else, though, that I don’t always talk about in a personal way that is, actually, very, very personal.


I’m adding this post to put the next two or so in perspective, so that the things I say don’t come out of nowhere or sound like I’m trying to wax poetic of something that shouldn’t be. We all know a lot of things are poetic to me that are weird to everyone else.  I’ve always been drawn to music since I was a little kid. Everything from songs in The Wizard of Oz, show tunes, interludes on Sesame Street, songs I heard on the radio that I wasn’t supposed to, novelty stuff, old standards..they all seem to be directly infused in my upbringing. I can directly recall a memory that corresponds to a lot of specific songs and artists. For every little kid song or hymn that blasted through my cells in the church choir there’s a memory about discovering The Beach Boys, trying to do cartwheels to NKOTB through a summer sprinkler with friends, or having my dad explain The Who to me (and getting most of the lyrics wrong, but hey, just meant there was more to discover later on).

I always wanted more than to be on the sidelines, though.

Ten million years ago when I was like thirteen, I finally convinced my parents to let me study voice. They weren’t too fond of extracurricular activities, so it took forever to make a case for this. I was determined to be a Broadway star (although my concept of Broadway was some random stage somewhere with people glorying in my extreme talent and throwing flowers at me). Somehow, we found a teacher who really knew her stuff and thus I began my classical education.

I never quite figured out if it was because she was one of the better teachers in the area, if it was because they wanted me to have a firm foundation, or if they also figured I might burn out quickly if I was kept to the music of old dead guys, but for whatever reason, I began an intensive foray into vocal education.

Breathing exercises turned into sight-reading (and I’m actually sad I lost those books somewhere along the way), which turned into different collections of sheet music (which are still teetering in the top of my closet waiting to murder me when I clean someday), which turned into different jaunts into state choirs, district and state competitions, high school choirs, a scholarship competition that I ended up winning, college choirs, and on and on. I eventually moved on to study more of a musical theatre type sound and had the benefit of studying with some magnificent teachers. I expanded into music theory and electronic music at one point, and truly I kinda wish I’d kept that up or looked for other outlets, because I wouldn’t be nearly as intimidated to compose now as I was then. If anything, I think I let other people’s definitions of what a certain type of sound had to be hold me back. I could get really technical on you and talk about the type of stuff I did, I could get really maudlin and go into why I haven’t done much with it these days, but I won’t. Because I wouldn’t take back those 10+ years of study for anything. If anything, it made me realize that I can’t let people tell me what I should or shouldn’t do in other avenues of my life.

In singing, though….freedom, dude. Absolute, total freedom. If you’re not really into music, it’s hard to describe the utter communion with sound I feel when I let go and sing, when I stop worrying and fussing and just do it. It feels like I’m one with a bigger part of the universe, like I’m holding hands with whatever era the music is from. It’s like flying without wings, strands of color suspended in moments in time. Absolute freedom when you get in the zone, get your placement right, and know where you’re going. It’s hard because there’s always part of my brain working overtime on breaths and breaks, placement, tone, dynamics, and all sorts of other technical things. In between those parameters, though, is something so strong that there’s no way to really give a name to it.

Listening to music has also given me a specific outlet. It’s also hard to describe…to me, a good album is almost like a physical love.  I feel it under my skin, feel it in my ears, in my soul, in my heart, in my pelvis if the rhythms are good. The lyrics make me think and consider how things are and what they could be. It’s a soul exercise, and for some reason I’ve always been driven to tunes that are far away from my direct experience.

Don’t get me wrong. If you press me hard enough, I will go on about my love of Handel, my adoration of Purcell and Mozart, my tolerance of Samuel Barber and Benjamin Britten. I’ll go all over the art songs I know and the Requiems I was forced to learn and eventually appreciate. I’ll talk to you about Cole Porter, Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Andrew Lloyd Weber, Stephen Schwartz, and on and on. All stuff a small town gal like me would probably like.

And then there’s the rest of it…

When I was turned onto David Bowie, something just clicked. It felt right. It was like all the theatre I’d grown up on, but the sense of exploration, of darkness and appreciation…it felt right. I love the eloquent grit of Lou Reed’s music. Love the harmonies of the Beach Boys. Love the rough sounds of The Who and The Kinks.

There’s a raunchiness in the blues that makes up Led Zeppelin’s work that makes sense to me. There’s an elegance there, buried underneath the sex and the volume. There’s a sophistication to Aerosmith that compliments the freewheeling sound.

I don’t know if it’s the typical grass is always greener/looking for something I’m not mentality that’s attracted me to certain groups, but I definitely am drawn to the primal sound of rock and hard rock. There’s a heat there at the core, a sharpness that’s just phenomenal to me. Maybe it’s because I can’t produce it, myself, but it’s a love affair that’s been around forever, if I’m honest. As a kid I definitely accidentally heard stuff I wasn’t supposed to, whether it was at friends’ houses or by feigning sleep in the backseat of a car (best trick ever), or by watching local access stations play music videos. I don’t know when I actually started listening to G’NR and Motley Crue, but it seems like forever ago. There’s a fire there that just feels magnificent when I listen to those songs, and I do it often. I work to that stuff – some of my best outfits are sewn to hard rock and heavy metal. I write to it on occasion, I drive to it, and on and on. I definitely change out my cds and I listen to a hell of a lot of different stuff, but there’s something about those genres that just give me a sense of peace, if you can believe it.

Maybe it challenges me to be just a little more fiery, myself. Maybe it gives me a certain smarmy amusement that I haven’t always had in life. Maybe it’s just fun and I’m over-thinking things. Whatever it is, it affects me, especially when I see shows live. It’s like a vibration that pries itself into my being and lives there, cracking open my ears and awareness into something else. I love it. Absolutely love it. It’s the way I envision people dancing for the first time felt like, or the composers of the day rocking the ears off courts with the first symphonies felt. Whether I have a place in that world or not, it’s definitely held my hand through the years, lyrically and melodically, the yin to my yang. It’s gotten me through some frustrating times, and when I’m my most self-punishing, I turn off the music. I try not to be that self-punishing these days. No matter the genre, there’s a beauty in its sophistication or wildness, bold or delicate nature, raunchiness or uptightness. There’s something to be said for every genre and form, whether it personally appeals to me or not.

I’ve written a lot about different types of music through the years, and there will be so much more to come. For me, it’s a way to participate in it still, a homecoming even if it’s not quite the way I’d like. It’s more than just a hobby or a coping mechanism for me…it’s an ancient language I know how to translate, something that fills up my whole self and makes me whole. I’ve probably wondered about different song interpretations more than is healthy through the years, though I never really like to know the answers. I prefer to let my mind wander and let the what if’s take my down my own path. In a way, maybe my habit has helped me become a better writer, as well. It’s definitely led me to being a better reader of nonfiction. It’s probably made me a little more tolerant, as well…but more on that later.

For now, just know that it’s a huge part of my life, whether I fully admit to it or not. It’s probably how some people feel about religion or a family heirloom that’s long been handed down. It’s something that walks with me every day of my life at my side, ready to experience the world with me and provide the necessary soundtrack.

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