23 July 2014

Music in My Life (an essay)

I have stage fright.  It's part of the reason I am much happier being backstage in the theatre world.  It's also something I want to overcome, at least to some extent, so I have started telling stories.  This involves standing up in front of people, mostly strangers, and talking and not fainting.  There are a lot of storytelling events in the Hartford area - Other People's Stories, The MOuTH, Speak Up, and Syllable Series, where I read the following essay.  The theme for July was "Music" and featured a mini-concert by Bandshes.
Music in My Life
© 2014 Margo Lynn Hablutzel

Music has always been a part of my life, although I am incapable (despite lessons in the standard instruments - piano, flute, violin, and guitar – and some less-standard ones like recorder) to create any myself.  I don’t sing well, and appreciate the fact that when there are a lot of us making “a joyful noise unto the Lord” She doesn’t seem to hear the off notes.  There are times when I can’t even follow a clapping pattern that the rest of the audience seems to reproduce as easily as breathing.  But I enjoy music, have found myself singing in the shower or when alone, and can’t imagine life without my own personal soundtrack.
Most of the rest of my family plays music – classical, jazz, ragtime, Christmas carols which we learn to sing (or approximately so) in languages ranging from English and Spanish to German and Latin and Hawai’ian.  As a child I went to local pubs to hear folksingers and Irish musicians, enjoying a bowl of stew or pint of rootbeer and feeling very grown up because my rootbeer came in a real pint mug, until the owner announced that family hours were over and all underaged persons had to go home.  My brother’s first photography jobs, when he was in junior high, were in those pubs, taking publicity photos of the performers.
My mother also raised us with musical theatre.  A performer from a young age, she could sing and even when I didn’t know the musical itself, I knew the songs, even lesser ones such as “Buckle Down, Winsocki” which I thought was our local NFL team’s other theme song.  As I grew into a theatre rat on my own terms, safely backstage where I didn’t have to remember lines or wear makeup, directors found it odd that I knew the score to musicals but not the book, or script.  Scripts are not on the cast recordings.
I learned about pop in high school and about rock in college.  My mother hated that, calling rock music “noise” and “unmelodic” as if we were twenty years in the past.  I was surprised to find out recently that she liked the Beatles and ABBA.  OK, I’m also a little embarrassed about the ABBA part.  I inherited most of my father’s record collection – although I’m not sure he knows about it – which includes The Rolling Stones and the Who and Lynyrd Skynrd and sometimes I wonder if my mother would enjoy the folkie sounds of The Band.
I’ve sampled most other genres.  There are those with little more than a beat you can dance to; those you can whistle while you work; and the ones that require you to roll down the windows and crank the car stereo and peel out of the parking lot and hope for a long stretch of highway ahead.  I learned that sea shanties are perfect for calming a fussy baby, who luckily doesn’t care how badly you sing as long as you don’t hit too many clinkers.  I’ve looked at how music and art intersect, and music and science, and how people make music out of everything from volcanic eruption patterns to birds sitting on overhead wires.  Music took me abroad, as I accompanied a choir (my Spanish language and herding skills more valued than anything musical) to Argentina and New Zealand.
One of my friends, who is a movie reviewer, jokes about pocket orchestras that are responsible for music in movies when there is no other obvious source, especially when a character seems to have a leit motif.  If you know Anna Russell’s summary of theRing Cycle, she translates that as “signature tune.”  I sometimes wish I had a pocket orchestra, so I don’t have to change a CD, jump over a track, or change radio stations when ads come on.  My pocket orchestra would know my moods and when to change from one genre to another, or would surprise me by following Chumbawumba and Bruce Springsteen with Ravel or Scott Joplin as my brain sometimes does when I am roller skating as a way of blowing some carbon off the plugs when my brain needs a rest.  Music rests my brain.  And music charges my heart, giving me energy, hope, joy.  “Pictures at an Exhibition,” “Yfory”, “Oye Como Va,” “Kiss Me Deadly”, “Young”.  I can’t play a Chopin etude, but I can make one my ringtone.
Some of my family members play or sing professionally, others only for the pleasure of family and friends.  I will always appreciate my aunt, who performed with symphonies and opera house orchestras around the world, assuring me many years ago that audience members are essential to the musicians’ life and my inability to create music of my own was no mar on my personality.  So I’ll happily stay in the audience, appreciate the music, buy CDs, support the musicians, and try to keep my volume down when I cannot help singing along.

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