Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Music and Me

When I was a little girl I loved to sing. My earliest recollection was a song I composed about four o clock flowers. I was probably four or five years old and we still lived in Chicago. My mother explained that the fragrant annual opened at 4 p.m. each day. This fascinated me. I couldn’t tell time yet, but I would check on the flowers in the afternoon and sure enough, around 4 p.m. every day, the punctual plants displayed their happy little faces to the afternoon sun.

I remember singing. “Four oclocks, Four oclocks. Because they open at four oclock.”
Okay, so I was no Bob Dylan and my tune consisted of three or four notes. But I didn’t care. I was happy to sing my little heart out. According to my baby book, I was singing songs at one and making up my own songs before I was toilet trained at two (you thought I was going to say 29 weren’t you?) My youngest granddaughter Briannah is a budding singer/songwriter as well. I can’t always tell what she sings about, but she’s happy to create her own music.

Her older sister, Rosannah prefers Lady Gaga.

When I grew older my brother, Terry, and I took guitar lessons. Terry plunked away dutifully at the notes. I’m sure he would rather be out playing baseball. I don’t remember him ever picking up our old Les Paul for fun. But he was better at counting the full notes, quarter notes and the like. He grew up to be a CPA, so I think the counting practice paid off.

I, on the other hand, strummed a few basic chords and wrote songs about everything from little green men to teenage pregnancy. I had a talent for writing lyrics, but the melodies all sounded the same. In fact, most of the songs by any given Rock and Roll artist of that time were variations on four chords C, A. D and G as well.

After I graduated from high school I would occasionally play my guitar or sing a little ditty, but not with the same abandon I had when I was a kid. I became embarrassed that my abilities were second rate. External and internal critics nagged at my fragile ego that if I wasn’t great at doing something I shouldn’t do it at all.
The only exceptions were when I was around children. I sang for the neighborhood kids, my daughters, and now my grandchildren. I still enjoy music and would turn on my radio to rock ‘n roll oldies in the car and plop in a tape of Bonnie Raitt

when I cleaned the house. Music lifted my spirits. I still remember my daughter, Brittany, running up to me while I was dusting. Her hands were over her ears and she said through clenched teeth, “No, no more Bonnie Raitt” when I played my favorite tape for the 5th time in one day (it took a long time to clean the house.)

However, there was a time when the music died in my life.

In the late 1990s I separated from my husband of 26 years. I tried to rebuild a life for myself and my youngest daughter, Brittany (yes the same one who had her fill of Bonnie Raitt.). It was a difficult and painful time. In a matter of months my marriage dissolved, I was laid off from my job of eight years, my teenage daughter was skipping school and in danger of flunking out, and two of closest friends deserted me. My confidence was in the toilet. I mistakenly thought a relationship would make things good again. I found a new love, but to my chagrin, I was dumped after three months. I was a middle-aged, college-educated woman, yet I seemed unsuccessful in making my way in the world. Every time I turned on the radio, a song from a happier past hit me like a slap across the face. I turned the radio off and drove in silence. I did this for months.

Then one day as I was driving home from work I turned the radio on I could hear the traffic report. A happy song floated through the air waves. Instead of changing the station, I let the song play. I'm not sure why, but something shifted in my pessimistic brain. I looked at the horizon and noticed a gorgeous sunset. It was, in fact, a beautiful spring day. Why hadn't I noticed this before? Nothing in my situation had changed, only my thoughts. I felt happy again. I decided to build on that. If I could be happy for five minutes, I could be happy for 15. In time, minutes stretched to hours, and hours into days.

Once I realized that I could shift my thoughts from the old "woe as me" and concentrate on the many good things in my life, I felt better. It wasn't like there wasn't anything good in my life. I just chose to concentrate - okay DWELL - on the negatives. It was no wonder I felt rotten.

Every day since then, I make it a point to think of a few things I'm grateful for. I wake up and say out loud how happy I am to be alive. Being a famous songwriting rock star is not on the list. But I can still make music. And when I’m sick of my own voice I can still listen to my all-time favorite, Bonnie Raitt.
Some may say that with all the negativity in the world there is nothing worth singing about. I say, “plllhhhg” (that me blowing a raspberry.) When you’re sad or blue that is exactly the time music should fill the air.

If you don’t believe me take note of one of my favorite quotes by Cervantes.

“He who sings scares away his woes.”

And if someone in your life complains about your musical efforts, sing a few off key notes until they run screaming from the house. That way you can have fun and rid a little unwanted negativity at the same time!

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