Originally published in Sound Waves Magazine December 2020
When the bars and the schools and the live music venues and the world shut down in March 2020 so did the music, so it seemed. Rather than put my quarantine time to good use by writing some introspective songs on my guitar, I left it there, lying on my band practice basement floor in its case, gathering dust. I felt no joy in music. It was all too sad for me.
The silence was deafening at first. I live a half a mile from I-95 and there was…nothing. The quiet was eerie and scary. I resisted but I gradually found music elsewhere.
I found it in the carillon at the top of the Union Baptist Church on High Street in Mystic, Connecticut. On every hour the bells play Westminster Quarters and a tone for each hour, except for 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. when an entire song is played for 15 minutes. I pulled my car over to listen, amazed at the rarity yet familiarity of hearing music of any kind. The church has stood since 1765 and a standard church bell had rung consistently at 10:15 a.m. to warn townsfolk that it was time to get ready for church. When the hurricane of 1938 destroyed the steeple and town clock a year later they were replaced by a carillon and a new clock. I spoke with lifetime deacon Bill Adams who told me he computerized the carillon in the year 2000 complete with a collection of 500 songs. He and staff members choose the songs for the week depending on the season and the holiday, mostly hymns and during December, Christmas songs. There it was: Music in its simplest yet modern form.
When Andrea Bocelli sang on Easter Sunday at Milan’s Duomo cathedral, while drone cameras floated above empty cities around the world, it was the first time I had seen live music since the start of it. I couldn’t help the tears running down my face as my ham warmed in the oven while my daughter, home for an extended spring break from college, a break that would last six months, looked forward to an Easter egg hunt in the yard. Just she and my husband would be doing the hunting. Hope sprang, for a short while.
I would sit on my back porch leaning my ears toward the highway longing for anything, anything at all. Now and then I could hear a whirr or two from a big rig but motorcyclists, always living life undauntedly, added music too: Harleys a low hum, Kawasakis a fifth interval higher.
As summer approached I found music more prevalently, because I so desperately needed to hear it. There was a lone cricket in the garage, some dew drops through the leaves, a family of doves which had tripled in their numbers, the squeal of a red-tailed hawk, seagulls I could hear from Long Island Sound a couple miles to the east. On foggy days that same ocean graced me with the perfectly timed foghorn from Stonington Point. There was a trickle from my backyard stream. I could certainly find the music when I cranked up a Netflix movie with a great soundtrack with the whish whish whishing of the air conditioners competing while a UPS truck’s backup alarm pulling into the drive grabbed my attention.
I took to the outdoors more and there it was again: The splish splash of kayak oars, the gulping of a bull frog, the twerp of a toad, the crackle of a backyard fire, steaks sizzling on the grill, a bug snapper, the kazoo of a quail, and keeping the beat, a woodpecker. I noted that the pounding of the surf at Misquamicut Beach in Westerly, Rhode Island is different than the lapping softness at Eastern Point Beach in Groton, Connecticut and that sand running through your toes makes a sound if you listen.
I soon found joy in the sound of cracking an acorn with my walking sneakers, crunching fallen leaves, kicking loose branches out of the way. I found the rhythm with my chop chop chopping of autumn vegetables while prepping a five-hour stew and with the sprinkling of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme on my Thanksgiving turkey. There was even a remote joy hearing the harmonies of a coyote pack and a lone gray wolf on a moonlit night, followed by an alerting hiss from a doe to her young. Soon there will be jingle bells, wrapping paper, scissors and tape to drown the silence. There will be clinking of champagne glasses. There will be hymns. Maybe I’ll strum my guitar. With winter upon us and the barer the trees, the more our voices carry. Oh listen – there’s “Joy to the World!”