Almost every room in my house has a stereo. There’s the smart, compact little black number that perches atop the high-boy in the bedroom, with a nifty sliding CD door and futuristic blue glow around the clock window. A retro model for the front room that plays my old 33’s and 45’s, but also sports a CD player and auxiliary line for iPod input. It sits next to a bookcase full of the aforementioned vinyl records (and even a few treasured 78’s from my grandmother’s collection) and a full shelf of Classical Masterpieces, chronicling the symphonic greats of the past 300 years in individual CDs with accompanying biography booklets for each composer.
The computer in the study can stream music from an internet station or from my own playlists on iTunes or Pandora. The game console my kids use is also some kind of wunderkind for playing songs and videos, although I have to ask for help from one of the minors in order to enjoy it. Even my bathroom has a combination radio/CD player that can hang in the shower – but more often perches on the edge of the tub next to a selection of new age and classical discs that I picked up at dollar stores and clearance bins.
As I mentally move through my home, it’s apparent that music is important to me. It’s certainly obvious to visitors, since I have my cello squeezed next to the sofa, a hammered dulcimer cuddled up to an armchair, and a Celtic harp installed on an end table. The upright piano oversees the collection, while a guitar and electronic piano on the other end of the house support my husband’s habit.
So why is there all this dust gathering on the methods of music that once brought me so much joy? Did I stop caring about song? Have I lost the rhythm of a past life, too tangled in the chaotic “now” to stop and listen for the notes?
I frequently have a fit of organization, which I can only explain as a kind of release valve when life becomes too unmanageable. The quest for perfectly lined-up socks in a drawer, or alphabetized books, is sure to bring the order to other areas of life. At least that is what I tell myself. And there is a certain amount of peace – an inner calm – that descends on me when I am in the throes of creating sanity with inanimate objects. Organizing has a meditative effect on me.
One of these recent fits sent me into the depths of my parents barn – my father’s side of the barn, to be exact. Stuffed behind a box of ’57 Chevy parts and a stack of tires from a ’31 Roadster were 3 crates of records. If you’re too young to know what a vinyl record is, it’s like a big CD, but more fragile and not so shiny. Anyway, I was searching for an old 45 storybook version of Tolkien’s The Hobbit to play for my kids, since we had just finished reading it together. I just wanted the one record.
Three days later, ankle deep in 40-year-old dust, and with my living
room floor obscured by stacks of LP sleeves, I still hadn’t found the album I wanted. (Not to worry – eBay had it for a song, and it was delivered in less than a week. My kids thought it was hokey, but I was in heaven.) What I did find among the piles – other than dead spiders – were my memories. I fired up the retro record player and put on one song after another, calling up the faces of my family from childhood, singing along with The Platters, Blondie, a few original Bing Crosby’s. Laughing at Foster Brooks and Bill Cosby and Fontaine’s “Iglacerus Gratis”, as if I hadn’t heard them dozens of times before.
For just a little while, the pieces of my life, the little compartments where I keep “then” and “now” and “before” and “never again” all came together, and I was whole – a complete person, woven into one piece by music and its personal meaning for me. It was an epiphany. (Isn’t that a great word? And it rhymes with symphony, so it definitely fits here.)
Once the living room regained some semblance of normal, and a shelf of book space was sacrificed for some of the records I culled from the crates, I resolved to make music a bigger part of my life. Not the I’m-going-to-take-lessons-and-perform-a-masterpiece-for-all-my-friends-and-won’t-they-be-jealous kind of resolution. The kind of tiny, but enormously satisfying change a person can make in their daily routine.
I can listen to Irish reels and jigs as I fix my hair, or let the bedroom stay
tuned in to a low classical hum all day. I can trade a mindless television program for 80’s hair bands while I fix dinner, or take a break from my afternoon chores to throw on a few 45’s. Having that musical companion is a sure-fire way to reconnect with who I really am, and bringing back some of the faces I miss seeing every day. The endless scales and patterns that grow from just seven basic notes bring order to my mind, and a kind of reassurance that the world still makes sense, somewhere, and is still beautiful.
Putting music on my To-Do list is definitely worthwhile because I don’t want to lose such an important piece of myself to the hectic, harried world we all suddenly find ourselves in. My To-Do list is already jammed with unpleasant and heavy tasks. It will be nice to look forward to this assignment.