Monday, July 27, 2009

The Music Within

I believe most people are deeply touched by music. This is manifested in a myriad of ways. Some dance, others play musical instruments, sing, or simply enjoy listening to their favorite genre, whether it's classical, rock, easy listening, jazz, country western (I'm trying not to gag---that one's not my favorite), etc.

I was born into a musically inclined family. My paternal grandmother played the piano beautifully, despite suffering from a form of deafness. (She survived the 1918 flu epidemic, but lost most of her hearing as a result.)

My father was blessed with a rich bass voice. He began singing in public when quite young, often accompanied by his mother. In college, he sang solo parts for operettas like Handel's Messiah. It was through this venue that he met my mother. One of her roommates, Jean, also sang solo parts in the musical productions that Ricks College promoted at the time. After singing in several of these musicals with my father, Jean introduced my parents, thinking they were perfect for each other. It turned out Jean was right.

My mother also came from a musical background. Her paternal grandmother played the piano by ear and she would often supply the music for the dances held in Grays Lake, Idaho years ago. Her offspring all sang, and played various musical instruments by ear. Her descendants still carry on in that great tradition.

My brother began singing with our father at the tender age of 3. He was too young to be nervous and he would sing out in a booming fashion that thrilled the audience. Since he didn't know how to read at that point in his life, my mother had to help him memorize the lyrics to the songs. What a dedicated woman! ;)

My mother plays the piano by ear and she often accompanied my father and brother as they sang on a variety of programs. Not long after this, my parents decided it would be good for all of us to sing together, and my two sisters and I started to sing as well. We performed all over the place (or so it seemed to me) and we sang everything from spiritual numbers, to songs from popular musicals, Christmas carols, wedding ditties, and even some fairly silly stuff just for fun.

When I was 12 years old, I taught myself how to play the guitar. For years, my father's guitar had sat untouched in the corner of the living room---it was something he was always going to learn to play. I remember being terribly bored one afternoon, and I felt drawn to that musical instrument. I picked it up, carried into my bedroom, and thumbed through the book that had come with it. For some reason, it all made sense to me, and by that afternoon, I could play 2 guitar chords quite clearly, and a simple little song. My parents were stunned. I'm not sure why. ;) I tried not to be insulted by their surprised reaction, and continued developing this skill the rest of the summer.

That fall I began writing my own songs. True, most of those first attempts were rather silly (I will spare you the lyrics) but it was like a whole new world had opened up to me. As time went on, this budding talent gave me numerous opportunities. It seemed like I was constantly being asked to write songs for high school dances, friends who were in love . . . or heartbroken over a relationship that had soured---I was even asked to write a song for my high school graduation. When I wrote a song I entitled, "Moving On," I was then asked to sing it during our graduation ceremony. This proved to be a challenge, since I was moving from the area the week after graduation.

In college, this hobby provided some interesting experiences. A good friend of mine served on the student council of Ricks College and she asked me write a theme song for one of the preference dances. The theme that year was, "Feelings of Springtime," and they wanted a song written using that same title. It proved to be quite the challenge, but I persevered and finally came up with lyrics and music that worked. And yes, I had to perform this number in every ballroom about half-way through the dance. My poor date spent the entire night helping me haul around my guitar and wooden stool. =)

There were other adventures. I was asked to write a song for our student ward about leaving home and journeying out into the world. I came up with something I called, "Try Your Wings." It was so well received the night I performed it at a special ward fireside, I was asked to sing it the next fall at the opening ceremony for incoming freshmen at Ricks. I sang in front of the largest audience I had ever faced, and I was scared to death. I had moved outside of my comfort zone for this number and played a grand piano to accompany myself. Prayers were answered and I survived, even if I sang the wrong line during one of the verses. I comforted myself with the thought that since I had written the silly thing, no one else but me would know I messed up. ;)

A few months after that, I was given a chance to perform one of my songs at a young song-writer's pop concert also held at Ricks College. I was backed by a live band and it was one of the highlights of my college days. For a while, I toyed with the idea of becoming a professional singer. But after watching what that particular dream did to one of my cousins, I was content with singing for personal enjoyment.

I still dabble somewhat with writing music. Through the years I've written songs for local musicals, YW programs, and was once asked to write a theme song for a compilation of musical numbers that were recorded by several talented musicians in our valley. Music has been a wonderful outlet and an important stress release throughout my life.

Music has always touched me more deeply than the spoken or written word. I can sit, stoic-faced during a funeral, blocking out what is being said over the pulpit. But when musical numbers are performed, I dissolve into puddle of mush. How difficult it is for me to sing at funerals, especially when the person being remembered is a loved one. But that has often been my lot in life. I have had to learn how to distance myself from the loss, to become one with the music, tuning out why I'm there.

There was a time when the music within me died. This took place years ago, when my father chose to exit mortal mode. It was a long time before I could pick up the guitar, brush the keys of the piano, or sing following his untimely death. I tried . . . but it ended badly until I healed.

About 3 months after my father's death, I was asked to sing 2 Christmas numbers at a Christmas Party for the local hospital. A nagging inner voice nudged that I wasn't ready for this yet. But I ignored that warning, and suffered the consequences. I figured I could handle doing something I had done for years. So I practiced two of my favorite Christmas songs and journeyed into town to perform on the program that night. My husband stayed at home with our oldest son, Kris, who was 5 months old at the time, and suffering from a cold. Again, I figured I would fine on my own. WRONG. I made it halfway through the first song . . . and the music was gone. I was still carrying too much pain inside. All I could do is cry. I ran offstage, humiliated and heartbroken.

I retreated to my car and drove around for hours, trying to sort everything out. As I drove around, my hand hesitantly reached for the knob to the radio. Turning it on, I switched stations until I heard a song that seemed to grab me. I drove into a deserted church parking lot and sat, entranced by the music. It was loud. It was angry. This song expressed everything I was feeling and amazingly, it healed a tiny piece of my heart that night. When it was finished, I turned off the radio and sobbed for a very long time. This was also healing. By the time I went home, I was exhausted, but on the mend. It would be years before I could sing in public, but little by little, the music within me survived.

Music is a gift. It is also a two-edged sword. While it can be inspiring, healing, and calming, the opposite realm of the spectrum is available as well. Music I refer to as "noise," can be detrimental to our souls. We have to be so careful about the types of music we allow ourselves to absorb.

It has been a joy to see the family musical heritage passed on to my children, and now my grandchildren. In past years, I've loved watching my sons develop their musical talents. One son plays the guitar and mandolin by ear. Another plays bass guitar and he's currently teaching himself how to play the acoustic guitar. The third plays the drums, guitar, and piano by ear. All three can sing and harmonize.

My tiny granddaughter loves music. She claps her little hands when we sing. She dances whenever music is played. She giggles and tries to help me whenever I dig out my guitar. And, she even tries to sing along. I'm certain she's pure genius. (That's a grandmother's prerogative, eh?)

It fills my heart with joy to know this legacy will continue. I think it's important and I suspect that when this life is over, we will find that music will play an important role in the eternities. It's part of the heritage we received from heavenly Parents who knew how crucial music would be to us during our earthly journey.

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