It’s not a secret that I love music.
But, I don’t just love music. I need it. I need it to be happy. I need it to be healthy. I need it to make connections with other people. I’m rarely so ______ as I am when I’m singing.
Music comes from a completely different place than from where I paint, draw, or create. Physical art requires more thought. Even though I love to use my hands and to follow my instincts, my brain is active when I stand in front of a canvas. It’s one of the reasons why I have little patience for people who take the stance that art is inaccessible, frustrating, and not worth the time and space. Art is hard work. It’s not supposed to be as easy as “that’s pretty”, and it’s a sad and telling fact that most people don’t want to make the effort to think. They want art to be pretty so that it matches their carpet. They want art that is, at most, one-dimensional and easy to understand without context, research, or discussion. This is not great art, and I am glad.
But just as I love the cerebral puzzle that is art (especially contemporary art), I love the basic emotional connection that music can form between almost anyone. The formulaic pop song that sticks in your head; the nostalgic dock and campfire songs; the wedding songs used to celebrate; the funeral songs used to mourn. The musical paintbrush that textures our lives is understood (on some level) by anyone who can experience sound in some way.
I read something wonderful today while I waited for my jazz group practice to start. As an artist, in any medium, it’s easy to question the worth of what you do. Standing in the hallway waiting for the rest of my group to arrive, I cried openly at this man’s reassurance that music was essential to our survival and well-being. I would like to share it with you. Karl Paulnack’s Welcome Address to the Boston Conservatory.
When battling my depression, I certainly didn’t take the easiest road to recovery. I could have worked with the homeless, the food bank, or another not-for-profit service that has a direct benefit to the community. I considered it often, but in the end I decided that if I didn’t take care of myself, it was unlikely that I was going to be able to take care of anyone else. So I went back to school and pursued a dream that I had pretty much given up at the age of 13. Here I am now, 2 years later proudly holding my certificate of Fine Arts and picking up projects here and there to pay the rent. I’m not making even a fifth of what I used to make, but I sleep at night, I am reforging relationships with people who are truly important to me, and I am producing work of which I am proud. Some days I try to discredit all the hard work I did as I regain pieces of who I used to be. Some days it is so easy to be “who I am/who I was”. Other days, I am speechless. I want to help someone else who is in the middle of their own battle with mental wellness and I am struck dumb at the amount of work that it took to get where I am now. I don’t even know how to start or how to reassure them because I’m not quite certain how I did it myself. It is called mental illness for a reason and while I am disappointed that there really isn’t a lot of awareness of how debilitating depression can be, even having suffered from it, some days I can discredit the severity of the condition. One of the scariest places I’ve been trapped has been inside my head. While surrounded by people with a smile pasted to my face pretending everything is fine, I’ve been alone and scared, bullying myself for being weak, irrational, and, when I was eventually able to own up to it, sick.
Of all the many MANY lists I made to help me on the road to recovery, not one of them mentioned music. I still plucked out the occasional ukulele tune, but there were some days that I was so sad, music made it worse because it would awaken in me colours and sounds that I didn’t think I deserved anymore. The notes were a painful reminder of another time and they felt like a punishment. My eighteen year old self is laughing at the idea that I would ever not deserve music. It was so much a part of me that even when I gave up the dream of being a professional musician at the age of 17, there was no doubt in my mind that music was going to be a major part of my life.
When I started to schedule things into my week to help me develop into the person I wanted to be now, I added Uke Tuesdays to my schedule. In 2009, I had proclaimed that I would “learn the ukulele” and so started to teach myself my first stringed instrument besides the piano. I had tried picking around on a guitar many years ago, but my fingers were small and, at that time, I still preferred the sound of a brass instrument to that of the plucky stringed one. It isn’t difficult to play the ukulele. The challenge is making it sound good and I was up for the challenge. Even after taking a year off, it wasn’t that difficult to get back into it and since I play with a pick I only needed to regain minimal calluses before I could start making music again. Whenever possible, I try to take my ukulele with me when I go out and I never regret it. People will approach me to ask what is in my case and sometimes they will ask me to sing. It’s that universal connection I was talking about earlier.
As Uke Tuesdays progressed, I started to get followers who were not only interested in sharing their thoughts about my music but also those who excitedly awaited my next episode. If I missed a day, I would receive messages asking me when I would get it posted. I felt something stirring in my gut that I hadn’t felt in years. I kept playing, happy that I was making others happy. Soon, however, it wasn’t enough.
As you may recall, as I was blogging more regularly in November, my little sister got married to her high school sweetheart this past fall. I was honoured to be asked to be the MC. Even when I was having weeks where I couldn’t get out of bed to eat, I could get up to perform. I did two major speaking events during my year off to a crowd of 50+ and 100+ people, and while I was on stage there was nothing in my head but the performance. I love to be on stage and so I did these things without really questioning the inconsistency in my behaviour. Like I said, being sick in the head isn’t exactly what you’d call “rational”. So, being asked to MC wasn’t a chore but rather was permission to do something I adored for someone I loved.
Writing introductions for most of the wedding party was a breeze. Both my sister and her fiancé, Ben, had given me notes and I had introduced speakers before, but I just wasn’t sure how I was going to introduce my dad. Both my dad and I are good public speakers. More than that, we both love to do it. I’ve heard both my mom and sister speak on a microphone and not only are they very capable, they don’t seem to suffer from the fear of speaking in public as so many people do. However, my dad and I love it and everyone knows it. So I was at a bit of a loss as to how I was going to fanfare into my dad’s speech.
Between you and me :p I only decided 20 minutes before I took the stage that I was going to introduce my dad with music. I had looked up a few song options and I knew what I could sing, but I hadn’t written it down or committed it to my schedule for the night. Hell, I didn’t even practice! However, looking over at my sister and my dad as I moved to the podium, I knew it was go big, or go home. And so I belted out My Heart Belongs to Daddy much to my sister’s embarrassment and my dad’s delight. I’m glad to say that I rendered him speechless which, I can tell you, is a feat.
This story should be enough to illustrate that music was inside me waiting to burst out at any moment, but what happened after the speeches was the final crack that turned it from a sleepy insistent trickle to a geyser of need. Ben’s uncle was at the wedding and he was a nice man who had chatted both Cas and I up before the reception officially began. He had difficulty getting around, but was seated centre stage and was obviously not going to miss the party for anything. When the speeches were done, I invited everyone to move into the next room to watch the bride and groom cut the cake. However, Ben’s uncle didn’t rush with the crowd – he took the effort to navigate the minefield of cloth-covered chairs to come talk to me. He told me that my little gag of a song had been wonderful and that he hoped that I performed professionally. When I insisted that I didn’t, but that I had in the past, he told me that it was time to start-up again. With that said, he headed over to watch the happy couple.
From that moment, I have been unable to get the thought out of my head.
I causally mentioned it on my blog. I tweeted that I was interested in jazz-jamming. I convinced myself that it couldn’t hurt and that if anyone was going to reply, it would likely be someone I knew and that it would probably only be a one time thing. And then something wonderful happened.
My pianist and I started playing together 3 months ago. I was sick with worry that I was out of practice and that I was just going to be wasting this guy’s time. I was petrified of letting myself down, and I almost cancelled our initial meet-up 3 times before we met up. If I had eaten before he showed up for the first time, I probably would have spent the afternoon throwing up. As it was, I kept the fear (and the solid foods) inside me and belted out music while he made my piano ring. For 2 full hours you couldn’t have convinced me that I had been sick. You couldn’t have told me that it had been almost a decade since I had really sung. I hadn’t really ever stopped. I had just clogged it up until I couldn’t taste, hear or smell it anymore.
I roller-coastered through elation and fear in between practices for the next few months while I casually pursued a percussionist or bassist. 2 weeks ago, I met my bassist and today, we welcomed a drummer into the group. We’re now a quartet and we’re working towards a gig towards the end of June.
Cas told me whenever I would have fits of fear and would begin to doubt myself for restarting a group that I needed to fake it until I made it. Clichés are rarely comforting to anyone with a brain, but, holy Hannah!, they are overused for a reason. For the past 3 months, I’ve been faking it. Confidence. Competence. What do you know…in the end, I even fooled me.