My grandfather, who we called Pop-Pop, once said to me, “when you are unable to speak, use music as your voice.” If there was one thing Pop-Pop was passionate about, it was music. He believed it was the song of the soul. It stirred emotions deep within him like nothing else could. He told me that true music reaches far deeper and touches our very soul and leaves its imprint on us. It may not be possible to explain or describe this reaction in ordinary language. It can only be felt. It is one of those mystical experiences, without logical explanation.
Growing up, I was surrounded by many different melodies. Frank Sinatra or The Four Tops would crooning to me over the AM radio with its static coming in like waves in of hot, humid air during the summer. Every Sunday, my grandfather would put either turn on the radio, record player, or CD player. While listening to the music, we would not converse much with one another. We allowed the music to do the talking for us. We would play a game of cards, eat lunch, or read a book…always remaining silent. Some people may wonder how we were able to bond together with no words. But for us, we did not need conversation to bring us together. It was the music that did so.
In July of 2004, my grandfather was diagnosed with multiple types of cancer. The illness progressed fast within the weeks after that. He grew very weak and little tasks too him much strength to do. Forming words became a struggle. Often left breathless, he could not say a lot. I spent a lot of time with him then and was determined to continue our Sunday ritual. Though we could not do some of the things like we did before, the music remained. I did not mind sitting on the couch by his recliner for hours while putting on record after record. I knew his favorite singers and bands like the back of my hand, so I would play them for him. One of the last days before he was permanently emitted into the hospital, I was about to put on a record. He scribbled on a piece of paper and held it up. I read, “put on Billie Holliday.” I played the album, and soon Billie Holliday’s voice filled the room. She sang, “I’ll be seeing you soon, in all the old familiar places…”
Tears were streaming down my grandfather’s face. It was his way of not saying goodbye for good. Instead, my grandfather wanted to tell me that he would be seeing me soon. He was unable to find his own words to do so. When Pop-Pop’s words turned off, the music began. Music is the song of the heart, communicating what we are not able to verbally express. This I believe, music speaks when words fail.