It always has been a part of my life. Whether making, listening, or discovering, it has been a constant. I have a lot of memories related to music – good, bad, odd, different – but they show the deep my connection to music and my feelings. Granted this is something that, for the most part, I keep to myself. More on this later. . .
I started playing music formally in 4th grade. Started out playing the flute. I really wanted to play the alto saxophone, but the music guy said that I couldn’t with braces (even though my dentist said i could!) and my mom vetoed my second choice of trombone. Played the flute for 2.5 years in my school band and then made the switch to what became my primary instrument – the alto sax. I still took private lessons on the flute for a few more years, along with the alto. I found something that I was good at. Something that made me happy. Something that people could recognize me for. Something I wanted to have be a part of my life then and into the future.
Then high school hit.
I was going to a high school that was known for its music program – including its national championship winning marching band. This was going to be my dream, a place where I could perform with a top notch ensemble and really expand my talent and see where it took me. However, as was the case with a lot of bands, they had too many alto saxes. I bounced around to a few other sections and ended up in the bass clarinet section. I had never touched a clarinet before that time – and the learning curve was quite steep. I was miserable. All of the joy and happiness I used to find in playing music, being a part of an ensemble was gone. It was replaced by dread and sadness each time I had to go to practices over that summer. Once it reached August, my decision became clear – I needed to quit. After a lot of tears and arguments, I was free. Free of the place that put a damper on something that used to make me so happy. Free to find new things and enjoy music on my terms without the limitations and structure imposed by someone else.
I still played my alto during high school, but mostly on my own or for a random gig here and there for groups at my church. I also discovered a lot of new bands and music styles during high school – Dave Matthews Band, Save Ferris, Reel Big Fish, Barenaked Ladies, Less Than Jake, Alanis Morrissette, & No Doubt to name a few. I would spend weekends at used and independent music stores looking for CDs or bootlegs to add to my growing collection. I would go to concerts in the summer, even found myself at Farm Aid since Dave Matthews Band was the headliner. I found some new passions – new music that could bring a smile to my face, soothe my teenage angst, or fuel my ever-changing teenage moods.
These new songs and performers became forever linked to experiences during that time. Dave Matthews Band “Under the Table and Dreaming” will remind me of the days spent driving around in my first car listening to it on tape. Save Ferris still reminds me of Hawaii and my grandparents. I went on my KAIROS retreat and was treated to a whole collection of new songs that were tied to this powerful experience. Everytime I hear certain songs, I am returned to that retreat center and the 4 days of personal and spiritual growth I experienced.
Fast forward to August of 1999. I was a freshly minted college freshman at the school of my dreams – Marquette University in Milwaukee. I decided that after my 4 year hiatus from performing in band, I would get back in the saddle and join my college band. Granted, I was rusty. My first time playing for Doc C was somewhat of a mess – I was forgetting the basics of a chromatic scale – but I was happy. I was playing again. I had an outlet to express my creativity and feelings again. I dove headfirst into being a Bando – somewhat timidly at first, I will admit. I tried a few other things as I was getting used to college, but really being in the MU Band was where I felt drawn to. I went to basketball games, rehearsals, the social events and band dinners. Made new friends. Played some great music. Travelled with the band in support of the basketball team. I also added another instrument to my repetoire – the trumpet. I taught myself the trumpet as a way to have a better chance of going on post-season trips (the only time math was ever my friend). Played in a jazz band. Was conducted by the head of the United State Marine Corps Band. Heard the Marine Corps Band live in my theatre. Had a ton of fun. Playing music was again a part of my life.
This doesn’t mean I ignored the other music in my life. I still cultivated my music collection, adding new artists into the fold – Ben Folds, Jason Mraz, John Mayer. Saw a ton of live shows at Summerfest each summer. It was a happy mix of my two relationships with music. Some could say perfect.
But it wasn’t meant to stay that way. Somewhere after grad school ended, when I no longer was in band and moving away from they bubble that was Milwaukee, my relationship with the music I listened to changed. Instead of being an ally, it became a weapon, a barrier, something that I used against my feelings instead of in concert with them. Yes, I still have good memories tied to music from that time, but it seems as if over the next few years I had mostly sad or neutral memories attached to songs. Instead of sharing songs with people, I used music as a way to show how just generally unhappy I was – if I shared it at all. Music became something that was just for me. Something I used to hightlight my feelings. I didn’t want to share with others. I didn’t want people to know what songs were my favorite, and in some cases why I loved a certain lyric or melody. I think much was this had to do with the changes I was going through after entering the “adult” world. I had a real job, was living in a new city, and was trying to figure it and myself out.
During these few years, I really didn’t listen to much in the way of new music, but stuck to the same old standbys – and focused in on what one person said was the most angsty music collection they had ever heard.
However, things have changed.
I have rediscovered the happy side of music. I have joined a local community band. I am going to concerts. I am revisiting old favorites and discovering new musical loves and even finding that music with a folky/country tilt isn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. Music is no longer an enemy or that bad friend that gets you into trouble. Music now has moved back into place where it adds value to my life – provides meaning or clarity to what I’m thinking and doing. I now have many more happy memories attached to songs. I’m not afraid to share or get suggestions on what to listen to. I’m rediscovering my forgotten love of searching through the aisles of used/independent music stores for those hidden gems, for buying imports, and diving into a new artist to fully appreciate their body of work.
I’m sure it will continue to be an interesting relationship I will have with music. I will always have songs that are insanely personal to me because of the meaning I have attached to it and likely won’t share those thoughts with others, but I may share the song. I’m going to cultivate playlists based on my mood or what I’m doing. I’m going to have fun playing in a band with others. I am going to use music as a tool to provide amusement and as an outlet for my creativity.
I may actually be happy again. Time will tell, but I for one welcome this journey with an open mind and willing ears.
I really enjoyed this post! We talk about music and I know it’s really important to you. Didn’t realize the journey you’d been on with it. I related to a lot in this post. I often feel music speaks in ways other communication can’t. You expressed that really beautifully. Also, I can relate to music being like a “marker” to a time and place. Certain songs evoke memories for me in a visceral way that nothing else can and instantly transports me in time. I’m glad you shared this.