My father was my inspiration for music. Although he wasn’t that musical himself during my youth, he wanted me to be. “All the world’s Mae’s stage,” he’d say with a nod and a smile to my mother as I ran to the top of the jungle gym to belt out my latest Broadway tune. He never told me “no”. Instead, when I auditioned for yet another play or show, he’d say: “As long as you keep your grades up, I’ll never tell you that you can’t do something.” And so I did. From the time I was seven, I was a regular on the stage in the Woolwich Central School “cafetorinasium”. I had memorized my first musical, Annie, by the time I turned eight. I performed solo when I was eight at the school’s talent show. A ruddy redhead with a petite voice to match, the teacher in charge told me that I had to get an accompanist because my voice wouldn’t be louder than the tape I had planned on using. But something happened that night. As I stood on that stage with my flyaway hair in braided pigtails, wearing my red-checkered dress with the sunflower buttons, I was transformed. Safe in the spotlight, guarded by the microphone stand, I gained a confidence I had never even hoped to feel in my short eight years. The music had gripped my heart and introduced me to my ten year love affair with the audience. Those in the back of the theater had to strain to hear the finals lines of the song as the audience was already on it’s feet. I stood there, a pin-thin girl, arms outstretched basking in the spotlight, feeling comfortable in my skin for the first time ever.
But music has had such a greater influence on me than just that night. Music kept me sane this past year. When my grandfather died the friday of my senior year Homecoming weekend, I was a wreck. Be it in the car, at work, on the phone, at school, or even in the middle of a game of twister, I was fighting impulses at every turn to not break down. All I could think of was the last time I had seen him. Only days before his last bout of undeniable sickness, my family had a quiet get-together. My grandfather was staunchly Irish and since my father and I were working on an Irish folk tune at the time, we sang it for him. I had never seen my grandfather, a stoic man, so close to tears. Even his sons and daughters said they too had never seen him so moved. It was that memory alone that got me through the week following his death. I gave both of us an unforgettable gift that day.
Because my grandfather had asked to be buried with military honors, I was not allowed to sing at his funeral. After his wake, I did sing for my family, though. “Danny Boy” was my grandfather’s favorite song and for that, whenever I hear the song, it’s as though he is looking down at me, guiding me through. His face, wet with tears and a stoic smile, telling his family that it’ll all be all right. In this I believe: the power of music, the power to empower, to give confidence, to heal.
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