I have this Great Uncle who, from as early as I can remember, was always seated at the piano. He recently told a story of me at age three, this little girl belting out “Tomorrow” from Annie beside him at the keys, remarking at my perfect pitch. He’s takes music seriously, so the story surprised me when I first heard it. I was no Judy Garland, but I could sing.
My earliest memories are of Annie and Singing in the Rain. Of Oklahoma, Grease, South Pacific and Gypsy. And anything Gershwin. Lots of Gershwin. And The Beatles, too. I loved to sing. Preferably in full costume and maybe a pair of tap shoes. My sister and I, standing by the hearth in the living room, which always made for a good stage. Always singing. Sometimes fighting. Always singing.
And yet, somewhere along the line, sometime after years of children’s theatre and Shakespeare Camp and drama club – somewhere between once upon and time and not so long ago – I stopped singing. Almost completely. And I can’t anymore. Not like I could. Lately, slowly, I’ve found myself singing again. It’s not the same. I don’t breathe correctly, I can’t belt it out like I once did AT ALL and I certainly am far from pitch perfect.
I’m trying to pinpoint the moment I stopped singing along and simply began to listen to the music. I blame the opera singers.
Of all the places I’ve lived, my favorite was a great little building from the early forties (practically ancient by LA standards) with an ice box in the kitchen and French doors that opened upon a little patio – just enough space for a couple of bistro chairs and room for my English bully to lounge in the sun. Above me lived a sweet couple, older than my parents but not quite my grandparents’ age. They were retired opera singers. And many a morning, afternoon or evening as I sat writing on my little patio, I’d hear them singing upstairs. I loved to listen to them. It was magical. Aware of being able to hear them singing, I began to sing out loud far less when my patio doors or windows were open. Which was most of the time.
I sang. And then I didn’t. But now, once again, I do. A bit self-consciously. Minus the tap shoes.
I’ll never be that pitch perfect kid again. That’s OK. Maybe one day I’ll have daughters who will be. Who’ll sit beside my great uncle at the piano singing about orphans and millionaires, of burlesque stars and stage mothers. And Gershwin. Lots of Gershwin.
And now, five great things someone else said about the how music shapes our lives:
People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands – literally thousands – of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss. – Nick Hornby, High Fidelity
Music is the universal language of mankind. – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent. – Victor Hugo
If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn. – Charlie Parker
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. – Plato