You know, I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember. Singing when I’m happy, in the shower, singing myself to sleep. Singing in the dark to chase away whatever lurks when the lights go out and I’m alone. Singing as prayer, singing to my babies. If you walk by our house at just the right time you can probably hear me over the rush of water in the sink, the clink of cutlery as I wash the dishes, usually by hand, because then I have time to sing. I can see the notes like soap bubbles floating through the glass in the window and down Alden, illuminated by streetlights, all the way to the lake.
My grandma used to sing too, maybe not all of the time as I do, but often. I remember getting up in the night and hearing her playing her Clavinova and singing. She’d sing while she did the dishes, while she rocked a grand child (who was probably too big by most standards to be rocked). She’d sing in church three times a week. Did you know, at my church we have a whole service where no one sings? This is unimaginable and mind boggling to me, I’m glad for those that enjoy it, but for me it’s not church if there isn’t any singing.
My dad sings in the car, he’s been exposing us to the best of classic rock since before it could be called “classic”. He karaokes too. My sister plugs her ipod into her speakers and cranks the music when she’s home alone and getting ready to go somewhere. Some of my fondest memories with her are standing side by side in her bathroom with both of our mouths hanging open as we apply mascara and sing. I can see the perfect symmetry in our eyebrows, in our souls. She understands that riding in the car is not always the time to talk, rather, it’s time for song. Riding in the car with the music up loud and singing right along is one of the best headache cures I know.
For the last year and two months I’ve been sightreading. All. The. Time. Let me tell you, I have always sucked pretty bad at sight reading. When I was in band, all those years and years and years, I never really practiced. At home, or at school (sorry Mr. Bourdon!). I didn’t know I even knew how to read the music, and it is still easier if someone plays it through for me once so I can get the hang of it first. But fourteen months of sightreading. I’m better at reading the music, better at finding the note, better at singing out loud and clear, better at realizing that it’s less about the perfect pitch and more about the perfect joy.
Music is more than notes on a page. It’s a memory. Every song reminds me of a person, a place. I can hear a song just a few times and know it through to the end, and the weird thing is, I rarely forget it once learned. There’s Dream On (Aerosmith), it will always remind me of my dad. Of our floor seats at Van Andel when he took us to see them as kids, of riding in his car on a Sunday night over wintry back roads between Coopersville and Grand Haven; knowing our weekend was at an end, bereft.
A Kenny Chesney one about hearing a song and how “I go back to the loss of a real good friend, the sixteen summers I shared I with him, now Only the Good Die Young stops my in my tracks”, that one always draws me up; makes me remember my Stefanie.
I hear Taylor Swift sing about elevator buttons and morning air and think of my dear friend Andy, gone but not forgotten.
I think of my mom and I singing a Reba McIntire duet in a big, hot, stinky van on a mission trip out west, and I can’t hear Reba sing Forever Love without wanting to just cry for her.
My relationship with my husband is, perhaps, my most complicated. Best friends, partners, bringers of new life. And the hard stuff too, the struggles, the fights, the words that can’t be taken back. There are a lot of songs that make me think of Casey.
A Widespread Panic song always makes me think of Jared, they sing “yeah, we got a party going on, many spirits strong, ain’t no preacher just happy to meet ya”. Well I don’t really need to explain the joy that is synonymous with Fr. Jared do I?
I can hear my uncle song leading (because they always took turns) at church on Sunday, one glad morning, when this life is over, I’ll fly away. And I’m taken back to the countless Sundays in that dying little church on M21, the funeral of my aunt, my horror at my father’s tears. Who knew dads could cry? Something cracked in my heart that day. A good crack, one that was empathy being learned. Because unlike sympathy, I believe that empathy actually hurts; but in a good way, a way that binds us together.
I’m finding that I am learning myself all over again. Finding what I am good at, what I enjoy, what makes me angry, what makes me sad; it is somehow all new along with the music. I spent years singing in the car and every other place to every kind of music. Learning to mimic the artist I was singing with, but never really finding my true voice, the one that is my own. I still don’t know what that voice sounds like, but I’m getting closer.
Last night I stood on the chancel steps, the goat rodeo of getting everyone lined up correctly to practice where we would all stand for the prelude on Christmas Eve. We sang “dark and dull night, fly hence away and give the honor to this day that sees December turn to May, that sees December turn to May”. I could hear Cathryn and Will and Phyla behind me, all people who have found solace in song. I could hear Shannon at the other end, Katie next to me, who is just beginning her journey into adulthood. Marcia at the piano and John far down the aisle listening and directing at the same time. I could see our words made into notes, like snowflakes flying out of our open mouths and floating out into the knave. Braiding us together into something we never could be alone.
Saturday I will attend rehearsal, herd the cats – erm, children!, through the Advent pageant that I wrote in a 30 minute fit of creativity. Listen to little Jack play the cello, Erin the keyboard, Eva the piano. Listen to those small clear voices raised in song. Today I will take out my music folder, I will plunk out the alto line for O Holy Night, I will sing Be Still and Know in the shower, perhaps a little Beauty and the Beast while I wash the supper dishes from last night. I imagine that along the way I will continue to discover my true voice, the one that is authentic only to me.
I will sing, and then sing some more. When I’m sad, when I’m angry, when I’m elated. When Ave won’t sleep. When I’m in the car, when I’m scared or alone. I will sing and not be silent. Not in the face of overwhelming joy, not in the presence of crushing sorrow. I will sing and my children will carry that memory with them, the mother who was not perfect in all (ok MOST) things, but the one who used the voice she had to sing away the phantoms, to hearken new birth, new love. Who sang because it was her own peculiar form of salvation.
You’d think a song is over once it’s sung, I’m here to tell you that the final note is only the beginning.