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Monday, November 08, 2004

Conversation with my soul

I can't remember a time when music didn't profoundly influence my life. It was always in my house. We had a piano, though sadly only my sister was serious about learning to play. She's now an elementary music teacher.

My mom played piano, my dad sang and whistled constantly. My older brother sang and played guitar and my younger brother played drums. As for me, I played flute for seven years and took voice lessons for a year. But there's more to music then what I learned at the B-W Conservatory of Music. It's helped define me at so many points in my life. I've come to believe that it opens a conversation with my soul.

One of my most favorite things to do as a child was to take my dad's stereo headphones and lie on the floor with my eyes closed listening intently to rhythms, melodies, harmonies and phrasing. My sister and I can still pick apart any melody and harmony. We could spend hours together harmonizing. At one point, music was so much a part of my life that I considered pursuing it in college. But I am much more an appreciator of music than a performer.

Though if you can keep a secret, I'll tell you that I've always harbored the fantasy of being a great jazz vocalist. While I have no problem belting it out alone in my car or in the company of my sister, I'm painfully shy about singing in front of anyone else.

Still, I've had some poignant musical moments in my life. The one that stands out most vividly was a trip my dad and I made to Educator's Music in Lakewood to get my flute repaired. I had a beginner's flute. It was all my parents' could afford. But I asked if I could try playing the gleaming open-hole flute in the display case. The salesman pulled it out of the case and I began playing a piece I knew by heart. My dad's eyes were rimmed with tears when I finished. "You play beautifully, Peanut," he told me. I wanted that flute so badly and I knew in that moment that if he could have, he would have bought it for me. And that was enough for me.

During my senior year in high school, I took voice lessons from a private teacher. By day, she was a teacher and mother of young children, but by night she was a jazz vocalist. I envied her dual life. Things she taught me still stick with me today. She would seemingly contort my body to get it to produce a beautiful sound, explaining where I should "feel" the sensation of singing. "The tip of your nose should buzz." And when I did it well, it did buzz. She would press in on my belly, forcing the power within to find a way out.

For reasons I didn't know then, I spent a lot of energy holding back. I was afraid of that power within and not simply the musical power. To a degree, I still am. But as I get older I realize that music has a spiritual verve that resonants in my subconscious and I find it's been a lifelong companion, at turns comforting and provocative, and yes—powerful.

So now I'm going to end my afternoon with a little Van Morrison, who always soothes me like "Tupelo Honey."

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