He said “It’s too quiet in here, what music do you feel like today” I started thinking about how music has affected my life.
I remember playing in the kitchen. My younger sister and I would sit at the table near the wood stove playing with cutout dolls from the McCall’s magazine. I can see snow falling in my memory. It was winter and I wasn’t at school so it must have been before I was six. Mom was busy washing dishes and sipping on tea. The radio was always tuned to CBC in those days and in the morning we listened intently to the “Maggie Muggins” show. I would imagine I was on her great adventures . She had a friend, Mr. McGarrity, who was very wise and always working in the garden. As soon as the show was over, we heard the countdown beeps and the words “The beginning of the long dash signals exactly 10 o’clock Pacific Standard Time.” I knew what came next… mom would say with a smile “be quiet now it’s my turn for the radio, listen, they are playing Madame Butterfly today” or sometimes in a sterner tone. “Oh be quiet and listen, its ‘La Traviata’”
So my introduction to music began with the Opera mingled with the hymns we sang at church. I think I preferred the opera because we were allowed to continue playing quietly. At church I was made to stand still and wait for the music to finally come to an end only to have to kneel and wait some more as the minutes dragged by. Then it was time to stand up again for another hymn. Church lasted forever in my young mind.
Our home had a piano in the living room. My parents sometimes invited the neighbours from far and wide to join them for a party. My sister and I were shuffled off to bed but of course couldn’t sleep. I remember sitting at the top of the stairs giggling. We could not see anything from the top of the narrow wooden staircase. We listened to our parent’s laughter wishing we could see what was going on. Someone always played the piano and everyone would sing loudly. The lilting notes drifted up the stairs and my feet would begin to tap out the rhythm. I remember the music made me want to dance; I wanted to join the party and sing along too. I could not wait to grow up and have a party of my own. This kind of music was much better than the opera and far livelier than the music at church. Mom would sing some of the songs for us the next day and teach us the words, songs like “Singing in the rain” and “I’m Looking over a Four Leaf Clover”. My mother loved to sing, I remember she would sing or whistle while she cleaned the house or worked in the garden.
As I approached my teens life had changed in our house. There were no more parties. Mom didn’t whistle as much anymore. My father had a stroke and our happy family was forever changed. It was around this time that my older brother introduced me to folk music. The Kingston Trio, Ian and Sylvia and Joan Baez sang their way into my heart. On my twelfth birthday, I was thrilled to receive a little silver transister radio. I played it nonstop that summer. Hanging out in my bedroom, walking in the forest or with my friends at the beach, music became my life, my escape. My taste grew and evolved and included Elvis, of course, but also Frankie Avalon and the Beach Boys. Then the Beatles burst onto the airwaves and the British Invasion began. Beatlemania swept the country and I went along for the wild ride.
I knew every word, of every song, that the Beatles or the Dave Clark Five or any other popular band of the time sang. Music lifted me out of my life, out of my pain. I allowed the singers into my heart and imagined that they were singing just for me. I embraced the fantasies of a life lived with a famous rock star. I needed to get out of my head; I didn’t like the dark cloud that hung around me. I was scared and lonely. My father was not himself since the strokes and heart attack he had a few years before. Mom was busy studying and had no time to play board games or watch TV. She went out a lot and when she was home, she was either completing a paper or reading. I did not appreciate the fact that she was getting a University degree via correspondence so she could support the family. I only knew she was busy and I was free to come and go whenever and wherever I wanted. I felt as if no one really cared about me, or even noticed me, I felt invisible, unloved by my parents.
In my early teens, my friend Shirley and I spent a lot of time together listening to music and practicing dance moves. We learned to do the twist while watching dance party on channel six. We practiced the Jive and the Locomotion and even the Mashed Potato among many other crazy dance steps. We wanted to be ready for the school dances when we went to grade nine. I started babysitting at the age of twelve and spent every penny I earned on records and teen magazines. I covered my bedroom walls with pictures cut out of the magazines. I read the newspaper looking for articles about my favorite stars. I was obsessed.
My brother continued to listen to folk music however, which kept me in touch with a different genre of music. The protest movement, the anti-war songs of Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary spoke to me and I secretly (because my friends would think me weird) leaned toward becoming a hippie. By high school, I embraced the hippie style and I wore ‘granny’ blouses and flowers in my hair. My favorite blouse had tiny white flowers on a black background. The long sleeves and the collar were trimmed in lace. My brother and his friend Rusty asked me to join them and we formed a small singing trio. They both played guitar and I sang. We practiced diligently. “Lemon Tree”, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and “Blowing in the Wind” were the type of song we sang. I felt most important as the lead singer; both boys were four years older than me. I was very shy as a young girl, but singing in the bedroom, practicing for the day someone would hire us, I was able to hide behind the mask, leaving me free to perform.
The world was exciting and terrifying at the same time. Rockets were sent into outer space and President Kennedy was assassinated. There were protest marches but my world was small and only the music of the wider world touched me.
Now as an adult I find my taste in music has not changed since those teenage years. I still enjoy the folksy soul music of Sarah McLachlan and Jewel and the good old rock and roll of my youth but these days my favorites are mixed with the wonderful Christian music of Robin Mark, Casting Crowns and Chris Tomlin. The words to the music of Michael W Smith and Matt Redmon and the like, strengthen my faith and encourage me on my journey through this broken world. The words draw me into praise and worship of my loving God and remind me that my home is in heaven. Church music has come a long way but my taste in music has remained the same. Bring back the Beatles and Joni Mitchell and I will be in Heaven.
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