put another nickel in

Tonight, I announced to my son that I was heading upstairs to blog. (And while we’re on the subject, ISN’T “BLOG” AN UGLY WORD? It sounds like a swamp monster hocking up phlegm. BlogBlogBlogBlogBlog.)

He asked: What are you gonna blog about?
I replied: I have noooo idea.
He said: You should blog about something that makes you happy.
I responded: Hmm. Yes. What makes me happy?
He replied: Music.

I love this kid. I mean, OF COURSE I love this kid, he’s, like, my son, but in that moment I loved him for how well he knew me and how matter-of-factly he deployed this knowledge to remind me — as though I needed reminding — of the rejuvenating blast I get from something as nebulous, permanent and necessary as air. I would not technically die without music, but I can’t imagine how life would proceed without it. Were I deaf, I would unspool it in my mind and sing along: Stevie Wonder songs. Shostakovich scherzi. The Tin Pan Alley that Daddy squeezed out on accordion, the Kreisler that Mama played on fiddle, the Chopin that Lucy coaxed from the piano.

As a kid I was surrounded by music and made a little bit of it myself, though mine was always the least. I sang here and there. Took voice lessons in high school. I scratched at the violin, sawed, flailed, practiced fitfully, struggled constantly with Not Being Perfect and eventually quit, never hearing in the sounds I made on my instrument anything similar to what my mother and sister made on theirs. It didn’t occur to me that I could play and enjoy myself the way Daddy played and enjoyed his time with his squeezebox or the piano — hunched over, blissed-out and slamming away. There was never any intrusion of ego or embarrassment at Not Being Perfect. He honestly didn’t give a damn. Who cared about Perfect! Who cared about ego! Making music was SUCH HUGE FUN!

Sometimes I wonder if that’s what made him a great critic in the classical realm: music meant more to him than the flawless ordering of abstract symbols into sound and silence. He wrote about it because he loved it, because he loved performers who loved it, his wife included. Because the music itself was, for him, a form of love, too.

Talk about nebulous. Talk about necessary. Though my father didn’t believe squat about God or an afterlife (not until his deathbed, when he saw and spoke with his departed eldest daughter), he believed in music. We all did — though I was the lollygagging convert of the bunch. I loved it as much as any of them, but I didn’t understand just how critical a role it played in the formation and proper maintenance of my psyche.

Then, in my early 20s, I started taking lessons again. Paying for them myself, I started practicing. I started playing in a community orchestra. I started playing string quartets with friends. I started caring less about Not Being Perfect and more about Just Being Better so I could have more fun. And it was SUCH HUGE FUN.

Eight or so years ago, I joined up with friends and neighbors to for evenings of rock and folk tunes, which had me noodling around by ear and exercising a whole new set of musical muscles. I joined my church choir; I joined my church band. After my husband died in 2011, I took up jazz violin lessons and ventured into that rich, sexy, scary musical realm. Last weekend, I sight-read standards with a friend at piano, drumming up improvised harmonies here and there. And it was SUCH HUGE FUN.

When I make music, I lose myself. I stop worrying about whatever I think I need to be worrying about. Music demands such focus, such consideration, such careful regard, such love, that I can’t focus or consider or regard or love anything but the notes on the page and in the air around me. I listen to them; I listen to my fellow players; I listen to the humming fifth between my A and D strings, and to the mystical, powerful, pulsating throb of one small piece of the cosmos suddenly ringing with joy. My son was right. It makes me happy.

4 thoughts on “put another nickel in

  1. Oh my goodness—thanks for the recording, which I remember hearing in my childhood! It’s so funky, with the trumpets & all. My parents must have liked it, & they must have had an original recording. Thanks for making me smile. I think I’ll listen to it again, right now.

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