December 8, 2020

The Space Left by Music is Full of Hope, Disappointments & Dreams.

My street is a straight line into the distance, sometimes ending in a blur of winter fog, at other times in grey heat haze.

Somewhere from the rows of houses, I occasionally hear arguing floating down the road, seeming to glance off walls and fences. I don’t know which house it comes from. My dog looks toward the sound and then at me. His gentle eyes seem to urge me to do something.

I don’t know what the fighting is about. But there’s no mistaking the anger.

Last weekend, I quietly worked in my backyard, bent over the vegetable plants that would soon grow under the spring rains and sunshine. Singing came from that same direction. Every word arrived with such feeling it channeled loss, despair, mourning, and sadness into me, pooling behind my ribs and spaces. Yet, that was only my interpretation of the lyrics. I couldn’t entirely understand the words, but there was no mistaking the feeling.

I looked away to where it came from. If music was visible, I’d glimpse colors flaring brightly, greens and reds through the morning light, glowing and dimming in time with the notes. The singing had jolted me, interrupting my concentration. I’d only heard arguing from that part of our street. The notes made me stand closer, experiencing the passion and ferocity in their downdraft.

When I was a teenager, music seemed to be an anthem to my friends and me. In the way it can be the background to a film scene, it played along with how I imagined the movie of my life might look. “Love Her Madly” took me to the extremes of how desperately you can love someone. “Street Fighting Man” compelled me to take to the streets and protest. “Nowhere Man” explained an empty, pointless life might well lie under that suit and at the end of a pen. “Friday on My Mind” revealed the relief of reaching the end of the working week, collapsing across Friday’s 5 p.m. finish line like a dehydrated athlete. Janis Joplin’s “Piece of my Heart” took me about as far as someone could go into music that tore up every idea on love and pain.

Remarkably, from elsewhere in our neighborhood, I heard another person dabbling in music. He or she was playing the saxophone. Songs I don’t recognize threaded through the early evening air, skimming the contours of rooflines and symmetry of trees. At times, notes were missed, so they’d stutter, then fade. I admired the musician’s persistence, as if every piece of music was played like a writer’s first draft, along with the crossings out and red pen notes on what needed reworking.

There’s another place for music in my house. A piano stands by a wall. The only person who plays it is a four-year-old, fascinated by the deep sighing notes at one end and the high-pitched tinkling under his fingers at the other. I watch over him, not so much to listen but to ensure the heavy, wooden cover doesn’t fall onto his fingers. My dog arrives but rushes away, as the crashing notes are probably overwhelming to his hearing.

At some stage, everyone seems to flirt with learning piano, in the same way they talk about studying another language or visiting Paris. Some of us took lessons, faltering at the hours of practice; others question what might have been had they booked a lesson and purchased some sheet music. But now, our piano stands in silence.

When I leave here, I’ll take recollections with me. The chill of shade thrown by trees, the dry, crumbly soil, beans growing with stems corkscrewing out of the ground, and the music of my neighbors.

I’ll recall it drifting down our street—the way smells of dough and sauces come from other homes. That music carries hope, disappointment, dreams, and the drive for something better. A bit like life, when you think about it.


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