Don’t over think this, I tell myself while contemplating a response to my niece’s inquiry about my taste in music. Amy’s 12 and at an age where she’s developing her taste for many things, music being one of them.
“Well?” Amy waits not so patiently at the wobbly kitchen table, one hand dipping into a freshly made batch of popcorn, the other clutching a glass of sparkling water and black current. No soda pop in this house.
“Music is a personal thing,” I attempt to explain. “It’s an expression of the soul. It can build up, and it can tear down. It can inspire. It can soothe. It can …” Words fail me really. My awe for the power of music is beyond description. And yet, I must try. “To develop your taste for music,” I proceed while staring out the kitchen window and tapping a finger on the table top, “you must listen to many genres to see what resonates.” I pop a piece of popcorn into my mouth and allow its buttery texture to dissolve rather than crunch on it. “I’ve developed my musical appreciation over a life time. Still,” I ruminate, “my tastes were guided most by what I was exposed to around the time I was your age.”
I smile and leave the table.
“Where are you going?” Amy calls after me.
“Don’t worry … I’ll be back.” I head into the family room to a trove of old albums hiding in an out-of-the-way antique cabinet. I’ve had them since I was Amy’s age and possibly even younger. My introduction to music was quite different than that of most. My mother was a professional opera singer, so classical music permeated our home. All other musical appreciation grew through the finely-tuned ear the great masters of music gifted me. I feel incredibly blessed.
I gather a few samples from my eclectic collection and bring them to the turntable Bill has just purchased and set up in the bay window. The old is new again.
“Amy, sweetie, come here, please!”
“But you said you were coming back!” she howls as only a beleaguered pre-teen can.
“C’mon …” I cajole.
With the scrape of her chair against the old hardwood floor … and a sigh of exasperation … Amy manages to manoeuvre her way from the kitchen to the family room. Such a journey, those few short steps. Youth is, indeed, wasted on the young.
“Why do you want me in here?” she asks as her shadow dons the door.
“You want me to answer your question about my taste in music, or not?”
“Well, then, you need to come in here,” I assert. “I want you to experience the music as I would have at your age, and then you might have a purer understanding.” It’s a stretch, but worth a shot.
Amy slumps in the sofa and Abbey, the rough collie, joins her. Puts her head in her lap. Moans.
“You know your grandmother was an opera singer …” I begin.
“Well opera, naturally, is where my taste for music began. Your grandma started her training for the operatic stage while she was pregnant with me and so naturally it formed the basis of my music education. Would you like to hear a little bit of opera?” I need to give her the choice. Being forced to listen to something that ends up grating your nerves without the option of cutting it short is hell on earth.
“Sure, I guess …” Amy hesitates, and hugs the dog.
“Okay … good.” I reach for a recording of highlights from Mozart’s captivating The Magic Flute and select the dark, dramatic Queen of the Night aria. This should get her attention. I slide the record down the post on the turntable and place the needle at the beginning of the appropriate track. The quality of the recording is a bit tinny, but the voice behind it is divine. I flop in my chair and watch for Amy’s reaction to the trills and thrills of this particularly fine rendering. Will she ask me to turn it off? She has the option.
Her eyes close; her eyes open. She scrunches her face; she releases it. To my delight we see the aria all the way to 3:10 minutes. At the end we pause for a moment as if to allow the music somewhere to rest. Amy breaks the silence.
“Wow! Wow! Wow!” her eyes light up like fire flies; her countenance brightened. “That was awesome!! Did grandma sing like that?”
“Yes, of course, sweetie. Opera was her life, and was a huge part of mine. I kind of have a love/hate relationship with it … but mostly love,” I sigh, remembering a childhood filled with trips to the theatre and introductions to the most glorious music. “It tuned my ear. Made me rather particular about the other genres I would entertain, which is okay with me. I rather like my taste in music.” I giggle to myself. I rather do.
“So, what else do you like to listen to, then?” Amy wants to explore my other musical dimensions.
“Oh, a little bit of a lot of different things, but I am, as I said, particular.”
I pick up the pile of albums from the floor beside me and head over to the sofa to sit next to my niece. She scooches over and I have to kind of work my way around the dog, but the three of us figure it out and I rest the albums on my lap.
“This … ” I pick up the first album with its dark outlines and sunset background, ” … is Hotel California by one of my favourite bands, The Eagles. I was 14 when this album was released. I’ve played it many, many times,” I tell her while feeling the cover’s frayed edges. “Their musicianship and vocal harmonies reach into the depths of my soul.” I get up from the sofa and take the vinyl out of its sleeve; slip it onto the turntable on top of the opera, and place the needle at the beginning ~ the title track. For a few minutes I’m transported to my tumultuous teenage years, a period of my life that relied heavily on music such as this. Close my eyes. Lose myself.
“Auntie Ell …” Amy calls me back when the song is over and the needle has slipped into the next track.
“Sorry, sweetie,” I give my head a shake, “I was quite lost there for a moment.” I pick up the needle and set it on its rest.
“I know. I watched you. Where did you go?”
It’s then that I realize that the music we adopt becomes our meditation. It takes hold and moves us … for good or ill.
“It took me home.”
Amy gets her quizzical face on.
We continue in this vein for about an hour, lost in time and space as Amy patiently allows me to share with her samples from the soundtrack of my life. The records layering on the turntable just as the music has layered my life. Maybe, just maybe, I can help this young woman develop an eclectic music palette. Balance the rambunctious with the soulful; the pop with the classical. Introducing her to a variety of music gives her a choice. Every generation has its music, to be sure. Mine was light rock and disco. Likewise, every generation can benefit from, and find expansion through, the music of the past and meld it with the present. I’m rather fond of Adam Levine‘s vocal interpretations, truth be told.
I am not so eloquent at describing music’s meaning to me. Music is personal. It speaks to the soul ~ moulds it; heals it; or even destroys it. It is our choice. I only hope that in the sharing of the music I love ~ and that loves me ~ I am able to help Amy find the music that amplifies her happiness. There is music for every mood; every occasion. I have heard of people who don’t listen to music ~ even worse, don’t like it. This only makes me wonder if they have yet found the music that whispers to their soul.
I try new music on all the time. This is one of life’s more gentle explorations, yet we can never underestimate the profound power our choice of music has on our lives. I could write a book and never get to the depth of meaning music holds for me. The fact that I can sing every word and every nuance of a song I haven’t heard in 20 years still baffles me.
It’s been a full hour music sampler ~ bluegrass, blues, country, choral and more. My final selection, Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most as sung by my favourite jazz songstress Ella Fitzgerald, leaves tears streaming down my cheeks. Amy brings me a tissue.
“You asked.” I sniff and mop up my tears, embarrassed by my self-indulgence. I really just want Amy to understand that her taste in music is as individual as she is, just as mine is to me. And I haven’t even addressed the impact that participating in good music has on us as performers. One day I’ll tell her about that, too.
She gives me a hug. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, sweetie. Now, come on … ” with a gentle push I loosen her hold and take her hand for some help up from the chair, ” … let’s eat some popcorn and turn on the radio to something you like.”
©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2016