Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Music of Midlife

I can't remember a time when I wasn't enthralled by music.  I gravitated toward it, savored it, desired to make it.  I was the kid that agonized through elementary art and beamed through music class.  I couldn't wait to get the little plastic recorder and learn "Go Tell Aunt Rhodie."  As soon as I could make a choice in my extracurricular activity at school, I dropped art and joined the choir.

So I think I have made it clear I love music.  What should also be clear is that I play no instrument other than my own voice.  I have always wanted to play an instrument.  I begged for a guitar for Christmas, which I got, and then was given no lessons and the strings were cut to render it silent.  I tagged along on my friends piano lessons, constantly hoping to get my own.  My mother bought an organ and told me I could figure it out on my own, but yelled when I got near it.  That plastic recorder I got each year would last only until a part went missing, or it was "accidentally" broken.  In the fifth grade we had the chance to get free lessons on a musical instrument and I settled on the flute.  My grandmother arranged to rent me one and for the next 9 weeks I lived in a state of torture.  If I practiced with the flute my mother berated me, if I didn't practice she screamed at my lack of effort.  When time came to renew the rental she yelled about the cost, never mind that it was my grandmother paying for it.  No, when the time came to renew I silently let it go.  Silently.

That is when I learned that the one instrument I had, that cost nothing, that went everywhere with me, that never needed tuning, never broke a  string was my voice.  It was mine, all mine and nobody could take it from me.  That is when I settled on singing.  It made me happy.  It made me free.  It healed my insides.

From 6th grade, until I was well into my twenties I sang in one choir or another.  I sang in the car.  I sang in the shower, I played records on my stereo and sang into my hairbrush.  I sang with my friends and we recorded it on our tape recorders. I sang on stage, I sang in the hallways, and I sang in the woods at home.  I sang Christmas carols, classic choral music (thanks to Mrs Smith), rock and roll, country, mountain music, operettas, rock operas, folk music, bird song.

Singing continued to be something I did with gusto for many, many years.  Long after the last practice with a church choir I still sang in the car or while I cleaned the house.  Then, in my mid-thirties I had my first son, lost my first son, and lost my voice.  Suddenly singing, any singing caused me such pain my throat would close.  For the first time in my life I had no music.  I had no song.

It took years for the song to return.  I had Connor, and singing to him was a joy that closed my throat and brought tears to my eyes.  Slowly, oh so slowly, the song returned to me.  I began singing again.  Only for Connor or myself, but singing all the same.

The music has expanded for me with Connor's arrival.  He and I whistle with each other.  We whistle all the time.  We whistle together, we whistle between, and we whistle at each other.  He loves music too, though he professes to not like to sing.  I see myself in his young desire to fiddle with music.

Now, at the age of 46 I find myself wanting an instrument to accompany myself with.  For years a secret desire has lived in my heart.  For 42 long years I have wanted to own and learn to play an autoharp.  Crazy, silly, and will not let me go desire to learn the autoharp.  So, this week, on Friday, November 8th I will drive to New Jersey and buy a used autoharp to see if I can learn.  Will this become another instrument, all my own, that cannot be taken from me?  Only time, and my determination can tell.

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