Musical Autobiography

This semester I’m taking a MEGA-RAD class called The History of Rock and R&B. It’s everything it sounds like, including weekly viewing sessions, a class Spotify account, and this first assignment! It was painful to realize how much I’d have to leave out if I wanted to write this in two pages or less, and as it’s ungraded, not try that hard so I could siphon my effort into other, more pressing tasks (like a real-life job interview, waddup.) However, I couldn’t help but make it snazzy. Here it is.

(Ok wait, a note: I’m rueful that I didn’t mention my family’s jukebox machine. Among thousands of other anecdotes… oh!)

Much of my confidence can be attributed to early exposure to The Queen of Soul, who encouraged me to demand R-E-S-P-E-C-T around the same time I was learning to write in cursive. Listening to “Pet Sounds” during Sunday morning board game sessions primed me for a deep appreciation for revolutionary harmonies while innumerable listens to The White Album led me to impersonate John Lennon for a sixth grade biography project. Records were constantly spinning in my house growing up, and since coming to college, music has remained a large part of my life. Over time I’ve changed roles from classical clarinetist to a klezmer frelyekh fanatic, exchanged my Coldplay poster for one featuring Simon & Garfunkel, and moved from car radio DJ to avid harmonizer. However, I believe that the reasoning behind my high school superlative of “Most Musical” will be remaining solid for a long time to come.

I began exploring my infantile musical potential through Kindermusik. Learning to clap along with rudimentary rhythms and sway to the beat served me quite well in the decades following that formative experience. After graduating, the piano became my next challenge. Like many kids, I loathed the weekly lessons and oversized musical notation of the Alfred book series. In retrospect, it was valuable for learning the basics of how to read and play music. A brief third grade stint with the recorder led to the adoption of the viola for a year (too much arm strength required) and finally to my current instrumental sweetheart: the clarinet. We’ve been together for about 12 years, participating in everything from school bands to NYSSMA to Area All State festivals to pit orchestras to Veeblefetzer, Wesleyan’s premier klezmer band. I also enjoy eking out songs by ear, my favorites being those by CSNY, Disney, the Beatles, and even top 40 hits.

My ears have heard more than I could ever identify, let alone write about. I feel very fortunate to have grown up with a constant stream of 60’s and 70’s music illuminating the house. When I received my first iPod nano as a gift in sixth grade, Earth, Wind, & Fire’s Greatest Hits were the first to be uploaded. The first song I ever bought on iTunes was Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park”. Middle school brought several sticky-sweet pop artists such as Mariah Carey and Katy Perry but they were tempered with fresh first tastes of David Bowie and Peter Gabriel. Around this time, my interest in Broadway musicals was taking off, with my repertoire including shows such as Wicked, The Lion King, Hairspray, Little Shop of Horrors, and the Fantasticks. Later, Spring Awakening and In the Heights would be the productions that topped Sophie’s top ten albums list before years of post-high school showtune drought set in.

Just as I entered ninth grade, Coldplay became a huge new musical realm to explore. Ingrid Michaelson’s lyrics prevailed over geometry vocabulary in my memory after discovering her flawless catalogue. Although any mention of it now makes me groan, an intense interest in the then-mesmerizing television show “Glee” introduced me to hundreds of classic hits such as “Like a Prayer” and “Losing My Religion” through their a cappella covers. I began attending concerts near (at Saratoga’s wonderful outdoor amphitheater, SPAC) and far (journeying to Boston, New York, and beyond.) Listening to Regina Spektor delicately catapult her balm-like yet piercing songs of Russian childhood and modern love made a formidable impact. Reveling in the deliciously melancholy sounds of Of Monsters and Men in a mediocre Albany bar was also a milestone that capped senior year.

Since coming to Wesleyan, I’ve explored as much music as I had throughout the previous eighteen years of life. Just a few artists I’ve fallen in love with include James Taylor, CSNY, Bon Iver, The Staves, Van Morrison, and Paul Simon, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have attended performances of the latter four in London within the last year. During sophomore year, I began an insurmountable project to listen to Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Albums of All Time, which has brought both great joy (finding Albert King, Manu Chao, and finally being able to relate to my parents’ undying devotion for The Boss) and a disappointing lack of understanding about the greatness of others (Steve Earle, Merle Haggard). Meeting a lovable, certified musicophile in September also greatly increased my passion for music. In addition to introducing me to a more holistic way of embracing music, from singers to record labels to producers, he’s helped train my ear to be more patient by experimenting with new genres and sounds. Now, as a student in the History of Rock and R&B, I’m thrilled to see what the next chapter in my musical autobiography will bring!

List: Minuscule Volcanoes Erupting all over my Heart

  • When you share a piece of music and the recipient struggles to reply out of sheer stupefaction
  • Getting a second wind
  • When the state of your cappuccino’s foam is both plentiful and high-quality
  • When you develop a positive habit and it becomes second-nature
  • When you and someone else simultaneously feel something so deeply that it incapacitates your speech but you just know that the other person is experiencing the same phenomenon
  • Experiencing a paradigm shift (of neutral or positive nature, hopefully!)
  • Finding out you were wrong about something negative you unconsciously accepted as truth
  • Noticing something you didn’t realize before: an instrument in a song, the facade of a building above the first storey, a new tasting note in a drink or food, etc.
  • The instant you finally feel sufficiently warm or cooled down in the case of inclement weather.
  • That moment of understanding when that string of unintelligible words suddenly looks like poetry. Or, when your perspective changes and everything that was old now looks new.
  • When all the thoughts that use your head like an airport, landing and taking off ceaselessly, pause for a moment and leave you with a nearly empty and totally peaceful mindset.
  • Being able to think back to a years-ago memory and compare it to current circumstances. For instance, the other day at klezmer rehearsal, as my three zany senior music-major fellow bandmates and I danced around in a circle, I was reminded of our very first rehearsal as freshmen in a subterranean practice room. Matt had a man-bun (before it was in vogue), I thought Angus was super cool (still do), and Matthew was doing his best to get us through pieces (still does, but he’s a lot more confident now.) I was much more timid, too. Blast from the past!
  • Finding a nugget of joy that comes out of nowhere and pushes all of your humor buttons at once, like this:
I crack up EVERY TIME.

I crack up EVERY TIME.

And now I’m just gonna pop some hilarious pictures here because laughing is good.

   

 

Truth and Harmony

The fact that I cherish those two concepts makes me seem like my friends have white hair and just want their kids “to be happy”. Well, you’re right. My friends are increasing in mean age, and not just keeping up with the rate of age inflation (aka time.) Instead of mostly 21 year old friends, I’d say the average age may fall in the thirties.

Anyway, I receive daily poems via email and today’s struck me. Here it is.

Music
By Juhan Liiv
Translated by H.L. Hix & Jüri Talvet

It must be somewhere, the original harmony,
somewhere in great nature, hidden.
Is it in the furious infinite,
in distant stars’ orbits,
is it in the sun’s scorn,
in a tiny flower, in treegossip,
in heartmusic’s mothersong
or in tears?
It must be somewhere, immortality,
somewhere the original harmony must be found:
how else could it infuse
the human soul,
that music?

————-

What a word is treegossip!! Into my vernacular it goes!

List: Ways to emerge from a funk

  • Sing
    • Happens most often in the car, along with the radio or ipod
    • Harmonizing is a sure bet
    • Folk, singer/songwriter genres a lot, with evocative melodies constructed by groups like
      • Simon & Garfunkel
      • Van Morrison
      • Gavin DeGraw
      • CSNY
      • Ingrid Michaelson
      • etc.
  • Dance
  • Take a bath or shower
  • Talk to family member, close or distant (those can be really uplifting)
  • Listen to One Direction (can’t believe the depth of my love for them)
  • Become properly hydrated and take joy in that
  • Exercise in a fun way like biking, zumba, machines with good music on, swimming, a sports game like softball or soccer…
  • Get dressed up. Go somewhere, or not.
  • Collage whatever I’m feeling: Happiness, pain, wanderlust, awkwardness, nostalgia… anything.
  • Bake or cook something unusual in terms of ingredients, origin, taste, whatever.
  • Sip decaf coffee with treat levels of sugar and cream. Or tea.
  • KOMBUCHA. Yes, it’s not been proven to actually help your body all that much (except for possibly providing prebiotics), but I love it just the same. Just thinking about it makes me happy!
  • Do something for somebody else.
  • Listen to more One Direction.
  • Get sucked into funny youtube videos like this or this.
  • Send someone a letter or postcard or care package or something totally random.
  • Relive old memories with photo albums, pictures on the computer, images or videos on your Facebook page from 7 years ago, or by asking someone for their old photos!
  • Go online shopping but don’t buy anything. Just virtually amass/collect it like the materialistic beings we are.
  • Clean out an old bureau or storage area.
  • Give away old clothes and things you don’t use anymore. Consolidate and donate.

To be continued!

List: Wholly Great Albums

These albums were chosen based on immortal magic they possess. I am one to pick up the lyrics of songs rather quickly, so without some exceptionally fresh melodies and sounds, most songs are enjoyed and then sequestered away. Thus, it’s a joyful day when I find such an album!

“Bon Iver, Bon Iver” by Bon Iver