Tag Archives: music

On Music

Music is a world within itself
With a language we all understand
With an equal opportunity
For all to sing, dance and clap their hands
-“Sir Duke”, Stevie Wonder

Listening
Though my auditions for my high school’s jazz choir were never successful, I did learn and grow to love “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder, the choir’s closing number at every concert. My favorite part was a section in the middle of the song where the vocalists would imitate the instruments of the band. Their rendition of that song comes back to me surprisingly often.

Regretfully, I’m not really a music person. Instead, I am fascinated with musical people, the ones who inhale music the way I do books. Music occupies such a prominent role in their lives and they know so much that I don’t, which is always interesting to me. My favorite way to learn about people is to investigate what they love and why.

In the Jane Austen novels I read when I was younger, people used to quote poetry and verse. Those were universals, areas where everyone was able to participate. Our modern universal is music in all of its varieties. Regardless of its form, there are elements of music that stand out to that, that we can all relate to. I’ve written before that there’s often a song playing in my head and I know I’m not the only one.

Knowing Me
There are songs I listen to in the dark, loudly, face down, huddled under the blankets for protection.

There are songs I hear when I’m running particular paths with screaming lungs.

There are songs I seek out when I’m feeling empty, groundless, numb, swirling in a void heading nowhere.

There are songs I turn to in moments of unbridled joy, passion, excitement.

There are songs I listen to out of anger, knowing that I’m fighting to reclaim them, to make them mean something other than what they’ve come to mean.

There are songs I don’t listen to anymore, songs I’ve grown out of or away from.

There are songs that make me laugh, songs that make me cry. Songs that push me harder and songs that remind me to slow down.

There are songs that hold me together when nothing else does and songs that tear me apart. Songs that make me realize what I’ve forgotten and remind me where I am.

There are songs I’ve listened to on repeat for days, unwilling to let go of the safety they provide. There are songs I’ve avoided for months at a time, unwilling to engage with the emotions they provoke.

Toward the end high school and continuing into college, a friend and I sent song lyrics back and forth, writing found poetry that reflected what was on our minds. I still have those many pages of lyrics saved as a Word document.

Discovering You
And then there are the songs that people have shared with me. The mixes my music-breathing friends made for birthdays, summer parties, or just because. I’ve listened to some of those mixes so many times that I will forever associate certain songs with “So-and-so’s Summer Mix” or “So-and-so’s 21st Birthday Mix”. One of my favorite songs came from a breakup mix (“So-and-so’s Second Summer Mix 2”).

Just as sharing books is a form of intimacy, I see sharing music as much the same. When you send me a song, you’re giving me a part of you that I might not otherwise be able to see. You’re asking me to accept something that matters to you with an open-mind, knowing that my own preferences might differ, but wanting me to understand what makes you tick.

And I will listen. I will always listen. And then ask why you like it, why you shared it, what stands out to you, how you found it. I want to know why this resonates because I want to engage with you, learn more about you. I want to be part of your life and I want you to know that I’m curious about who and what you are. So I listen, I ask, and I listen again. If your music has lyrics, I often read them. What’s in there for you?

We share with people we care about, people who we hope also care about us. We invite them into our lives and hope they’ll accept. We show them pieces of ourselves and gauge their reactions before stripping ourselves bare, exposing one thing at a time.

And when we find something that connects us, we are overjoyed. We are ecstatic that someone has welcomed that piece of us, that someone is invested in us and our well-being. We call these people our friends, our lovers, our family. We feel at once affirmed, validated, secure in who we are.

We know, in that moment, that we are doing okay. We know that we are okay.

You’ve got the music in you
Don’t let go
You’ve got the music in you
One dance left
This world is gonna pull through
Don’t give up
You’ve got a reason to live
Can’t forget
We only get what we give
-“You Get What You Give” – New Radicals

Dear You

It’s a little bit funny this feeling inside
I’m not one of those who can easily hide

I grew up listening to Elton John and this particular song always comes back to me in moments of a certain strong emotion. As I write this, the video is playing in the background and I know I’ll be listening to his music all night. I’m writing now as a way to stay grounded, to remind myself of where I’ve been and where I’m going.

Where we’ve been.

I spent this afternoon with my best friend from the last ten years. He lives only a few miles from me, in an apartment leased in both of our names. I pass that street every day on the way to work. I had dinner on that block just last night.

We broke up back in August. A lot happened between us and everything changed. I’ve learned a lot since then. I’ve grown, hopefully in positive ways.

A friend called to ask how the afternoon went and when I tried to explain, I found myself a little choked up. There’s a whole life buried under the coffee we shared today.

I know it’s not much but it’s the best I can do
My gift is my song and this one’s for you

After all that has passed between us, I just want to thank you. I want to thank you for always being able to make me laugh, for holding me when I cried, for giving me the wings I never would have found without you. I want to thank you for teaching me to run and for broadening my understanding of the world. Thank you for all the times you didn’t give up on me. Most importantly, thank you for letting me see you, know you, and love you.

I didn’t always do right by you because I didn’t know how to do right by me. I’m sad for both of us that I didn’t know better. I know better now and I’m sorry you were the one caught in the middle of that journey of self-discovery.

I want you to know that you are always welcome in my corner of the sky, in my home, or at my table. I wish everything for you that you wish for yourself. I hope that you smile and find peace in where you are and what you’re doing. Please know that I’m always cheering for you, darling, and that will never change.

Love always,

Rebecca Michelle

A Night at the Opera

Without music, life would be a mistake. – Friedrich Nietzsche

The first image that comes to mind when I think “opera” is a scene in Anastasia, the animated film that came out in 1997. Anastasia gets all dressed up in pearls and a floor-length gown and watches the opera from a luxury box through a pair of gold binoculars. Since then, opera has meant elegance, finery, glamor, culture.

On Thursday, a colleague took me to the Met for a performance of Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio. While it didn’t involve a floor-length gown or gold binoculars, it was absolutely stunning and also changed my schema of opera.

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My coworker neglected to mention that her season tickets are in the front row. This gave me a view of the orchestra that I’ve never had, which was fascinating in itself. During intermission, for example, the musicians chatted to each other, took pictures, sent text messages, and suddenly became regular people. Other than a few small live music venues, I’ve never been close enough to a stage to watch orchestral musicians perform. To say that music is alive is to underestimate the role of the people who bring it to life.

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I grew up listening to many of the Classical Kids cassette tapes – Beethoven Lives Upstairs, Mozart’s Magic Fantasy, Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery, Tchaikovsky Discovers America, Mr. Bach Comes to Call were often our choice of car music. (Barenaked Ladies and Smash Mouth took over for a while after that, but I think we had CDs by then.) As soon as the Fidelio overture began, it was like being at a Beethoven concert. My knowledge of music theory is unfortunately limited and I can’t actually describe what “being at a Beethoven concert” sounds like, but I recognized him immediately.

The singers, of course, were equally amazing. Their voices were so big and so full of every emotion, making them instantly relatable and making the story easy to follow. I likely had a huge smile on my face the whole time. Live performance always has that impact on me.

Overall, the opera was far more approachable than I had expected. On the back of each seat is a small screen that you can choose to turn on to view the subtitles for everything being sung onstage. For Fidelio, the available languages were German (the language of the opera), English, and Spanish. The words are red on black screens that are constructed in such a way that it is very difficult to see the screen of the people next to you. Having the captions on is not at all distracting while also allowing the audience to  follow tradition and watch the opera without translation.

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There was something in Fidelio for everyone – unrequited love, ambition, crime, marital fidelity, revolutionary undertones. Opera is definitely an experience that I want to have again, which is feasible considering tickets at the Met start at about $30 for the highest section in the auditorium. Again, approachable. Who knew?

In addition to the opera, I was really interested in the audience. My coworker had told me to expect everything from tuxedos with tails to jeans and backpacks. She was not exaggerating. I saw multiple people who were clearly tourists and backpackers in the city for a few days, and multiple people who have clearly attended opera for decades and embrace all the glamor that opera has always had. My favorite by far was a couple in our row who were well into their advanced years and epitomized fabulous. He sported a tuxedo with a patterned cummerbund matching his bowtie and pocket square, and she wore a velvet pantsuit with a spangly rhinestone front and no back with a white feathered fedora. They were beautiful.

As far as cultural experiences go, I’m trying to do as much as I can for my time here in New York. I’ve been to live music venues, Broadway shows, comedy clubs, and now the opera. I haven’t seen a dance performance here so that’s next on the list.

Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent. – Victor Hugo