Finding the Music

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!”


A Musician’s Carol

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine December 2016

 Ghost of Music Past

“Suzy darling, do you remember when you were 8-years old?” said the cheery-eyed apparition who appeared out of nowhere.

“Heck no! I’m lucky I can remember what I had for dinner last night!” Suzy said.

“Try harder.”

“OK. Give me a second. Oh yes, yes, I see it now. Are you doing something to my brain? I can see it clear as day. I’m saying, ‘Mommy, Mommy pleeeease can you tell Santa or whoever buys the presents around here that I really really want a guitar for Christmas? You were right. Barbies are boring and rather sexist.”

“Well I’m glad you’ve come to your senses about the barbies dear, but absolutely not. You may NOT have a guitar dear. Girls don’t play guitars. We’ve paid in advance lots of accordion lessons for you.”

Suzy’s little brother Paul, who had been idly playing with some Legos, chimed in.

“If I don’t get a Superman from Santa this year I’m putting my hand on a hot pile of spaghetti and leaving it there forever!” he yelled. Suzy rolled her eyes.

“Mother please, honestly, for someone of such intelligence, where do you think I’m going to get in life playing an accordion?”

“I’ll see what I can do,” she said.

“Very good Suzy,” said the phantom. “Now, do you remember when you were 16-years old?”

Suzy thought a moment. “Oh yes yes I see,” she recalled. I was on stage and the lights were in my eyes and I was kind of like a star and I thought it was the grandest place on earth and that this is what I will do the rest of my life. I will work hard at it just like my schoolwork and attack it like a beast.”

“Excellent Suzy. You always knew that if you had a gift, it was your job to give it away.”

And the ghost was gone.

 Ghost of Music Present

“Ug! Lugging this equipment around is absolutely destroying my back! Man I hope they cancel because of the snowflakes,” Suzy thought to herself. “Nobody’s going to show up anyway. Everybody just wants to drink at home and watch Netflix or plug in their Amazon Fire Sticks or stream YouTube videos of cats. Or they all have to get up early and run a marathon for charity. Or they’re snap-chatting. What’s the point! This time of year is the worst. Between work parties and pie baking and chestnuts roasting and waiting for ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ to come on TV, it’s just downright useless. My music has officially become irrelevant. I simply cannot bear the thought of performing one more time in one more empty bar.”

“Jeez, what a whiner,” the ghost said. “Things are worse than I thought. Let’s see what I can do.”


 Ghost of Music Future

“We could belabor this point for hours,” the grumpy old men said. “Whether it was the musicians who refused to play out anymore or the club owners who canceled all live music, is not the point. The point is, there simply is no more music to be heard anywhere. It’s all gone. Digital samplings squashed together from the music of the past is all we got. Ain’t what it used to be I tell ya.”

A wrinkly old woman with a sparkle in her eye and a smirk on her face stood up in front of the men and said, “My dear boys. Everybody knows the whole world went haywire when that girl started writing those articles in some magazine complaining about the music business all the time and everybody started to believe it was a waste of time and money. Then one day, she stopped playing gigs altogether and stashed her guitar in the attic. Everybody else just sorta followed suit. Before you knew it, all school music programs were canceled and every music store shut down. You couldn’t even find a church choir on Christmas Eve. Oh if not for that wretched girl! What a Scrooge!”

“HA HA HA. No! It was all because of Kanye West!” and they all laughed and laughed and smoked their pot.

“Let me see if there is something I can do about this sad state of affairs,” said the ghost.

 The End – Thanks to the Ghosts

At band practice, present day. Some musicians are determined to write a song together.

“Oh Don! You remind me of Brian Wilson in that movie ‘Love and Mercy’ when he’s telling the cello players to play that super low note over and and over again in ‘Good Vibrations,” Suzy said lightheartedly.

“Yeah right. My bass doesn’t go any lower,” said Dave.

“I can tune down,” said Don the guitar player.

“Who cares about the notes! Let’s move on people! Let’s finish this thing,” said Kevin the drummer, while rolling on the toms.

Suzy was irresistibly intrigued. “This is awesome. You know what? I think we should write a song about Brian Wilson and make it so everybody can sing along to it. Then we can record it and give it away for free, just because! We can sing it all summer long!”

The band hoots and hollers in unison.

“Let’s do it! Merry Christmas to all! God bless us, every one!”

The ghosts hover high above the chilly but cheerful basement stuffed with an assortment of musical instruments, scribbly noted loose leaf papers, guitar picks and drum sticks.

The band mates hear a whisper somewhere in the back of their minds.

“Very good boys and girls. You’ve come to know that while some 8-year olds dream of being Superman, playing music together is actually the thing that feels like flying, and it’s all worth it,” said the ghosts. “We’re depending on you.”