This I Believe

Terence - Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Entered on February 4, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: creativity

Music Vs. Oxygen

For some people, the world around them is entirely made of chaos- disorder and confusion. To boil down the bombardment of stimuli that their brains receive into understandable information about who they are, what they are doing, and why they are doing it, is a task in itself. It takes all their strength to focus on one particular thing such as finishing their homework or holding a conversation in a subway.

I hear, see, touch, and smell it all as music. And I embrace it.

Literally, I hear music in everything. Train wheels clicking on the rails sound like drums beats. Car horns sound in patterns. The Doppler effect of cars whizzing by sounds like the rotating Leslie of an organ. They way smells and odors move across my path begins to feel rhythmic. The distance between driveways and side streets going by my window comes at rhythmic intervals.

All this is testament to the closeness of music to my life. I love music with a passion that I can exert in only a few other things I do. This includes listening, playing and writing.

How did this happen? When did this start happening? My earliest accounts with music that I can remember are the ones sitting in my father’s study as a young child of two or three, studying the rows and rows of LP’s he had on his shelves. There were The Eagles, The Beatles (of which he had every CD and LP), Jethro Tull, The Grateful Dead, John Coltrane, The Rolling Stones, Roy Orbison, The Temptations, Diana Ross and The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, The Allman Brothers, Bob Dylan and the list goes on. On frequent occasion, when he sat at his desk scribbling mathematical equations of what I interpreted as gibberish, he would put an LP or CD into his stereo and hum along.

Either my father must have a very good taste in music or I have a wide range of musical interest but I remember listening intently to whatever came out of those speakers, whether it was B.B. King’s wailing guitar line or Jethro Tull’s psychedelic flute- I was captured by the sound. It is hard to explain why, but my best reason is that all the music he played was fashioned on melody and harmony: no power-chord-hard rock, classical music, or cheesy pop; only the “quality” music- jazz, soft rock, blues, rock n’ roll, mo town, R&B, and bluegrass. I guess the rest was constituted by the fact that music just naturally appealed to me: I don’t have any other way to explain it. Yet, I still think that it took the kind of catalytic effect of playing music to me, to boost my musical interest. In this fashion, I believe I built a solid basis in the construction of melody, tonality and improvisation as well as an understanding and early appreciation for music.

Additionally, I came to love and appreciate sound for it’s malleable qualities. Sound is a very volatile form: it can be made terribly loud and ugly like a jet plane or Godzilla attacking Tokyo or it could be soft and mellow like Boney James’ fluttery, tenor saxophone lines. Every good musician has the ability to encode a message in his or her music with the way they manipulate the sound. Whether they re conveying to the feelings that they feel or the drugs that cloud their consciousness, one can hear what they have to say at that exact moment if he listens hard enough. I understood this phenomenon from a young age- I loved to stomp on the floor while listening to “dinosaur tapes” and lie down while listening to piano music that my mother played for me. When I listened to the music that my dad played for me; I could somehow hear every message clearly and succinctly. I was drawn into hearing the pain and sadness, tinged with grief, drugs and alcohol that John Coltrane sermoned and I could almost hear Kirk Whalum crying, with his eyes squeezed closed as he belted out pleas of obsession, love and regret through his little, metal, Guardala mouth piece. Later on, when I sat down at a Hammond B3 Organ for the first time, I was captured by the inherent easiness with which I was able to sculpt out melody after melody, from pure, raw sound. It was as if this talent came out of nowhere, when in fact, the power to wield sound that I discovered from playing this remarkable instrument came from this early appreciation for music.

And even later, I would realize that, unconsciously, all information that my mind processes becomes linked or associated in my mind, with a rhythm or melody. In reality, as I grew older, music became more and more closely associated to everyday things that I did. My father continued to demonstrate his knowledge in good music, for many years, showing me album after album of his collection until tenth grade when my induction into In The Pocket allowed me to outstrip his mental library of music. I ALWAYS played music during homework, always played music while on long road-trips for hours, draining packs of batteries while imagining scenarios for what I heard, and for the brief year that I had an iPod, I was constantly plugged into it, listening to my collection of thousands of songs. Even as I write this essay, I have iTunes running in the background, with Getz and Jobim playing The Girl From Ipanema.

Because of this constant unconscious association between music and everyday life, I have come to a point in of harmony with sound, so that I hear, breathe, eat, feel, smell, taste, and see it. I don’t believe it to be a disease of any sort, nor any kind of blessing for it is simply who I am, and is the result of a progressive synthesis of mind and music. It is the power of music that keeps me sane through the day: it runs through my veins, tingles at my fingertips and makes my hair stand on end when I hear that perfect blue note. Although many people tell me music is and should not be my highest priority, the fact of the matter is, “it’s up there with oxygen”.