The Blush of First Love: One Note at a Time

When my friend, Bill wrote about his daughter’s first crush, he wrote of the “pang of yearning” for her experience. As is often the case, I somewhat missed the point in my comment, thinking only of the impending demise of young love. When Mark wrote about his brief acquaintance with someone who became a success, I commented that it might be better not to meet the people behind their work.

I am, so often, a rather cynical person who is likely to see that the half-full/half-empty glass is in need of a good washing. And who the hell left it there for me to clean up, anyway?

canstockphoto7136037Sometimes, though, I am reminded of a first love I cannot deny. I smile until my face hurts. Chills run up my spine. Tears well up. I can’t sit still. Want to see a grown woman turn into an ungainly, starstruck teenager? Set me down at a live music performance. To paraphrase Gloria Estefan, for likely the first and last time ever, the rhythm is gonna get me.

I’m fortunate to live in the Twin Cities, a metro area that sprouts organic bands overnight. Tuesday night’s show, with the band i like you and local orchestra kids, was a charity performance to buy used and new musical instruments for kids who can’t afford them. That idea alone brings me to tears. I can’t imagine my life without being able to make my own music and I wouldn’t want any child to miss that opportunity.

Lessons started for me in 4th grade on a nickel-plated rental flute. We were poor, so this was a great luxury and one of the gifts for which my mother will always have my gratitude. The consequence of that monthly rental fee was that I had to practice, without fail, for 30 minutes every day. I resented it about 50% of the time, but the other 50% was all about making my own music.canstockphoto25554786

I played all through high school, never particularly gifted or talented, but practiced, always the practiced musician. I worked at a local cafe and did beanwalking in the summers (it’s an Iowa thing) to pay for my own brand new silver flute. It will likely last my lifetime. In the Army, I took that flute to every posting. While stationed in Monterey at the Defense Language Institute, I joined the Russian balalaika orchestra, donning a traditional sarafan and playing the flute while ungainly military men danced folk dances and sang about bears.

While in college, I took lessons from someone more talented than I and turned around to teach lessons to small troglodytes whose parents wanted enhanced babysitting services. I did have a handful of students over the years who will, even if they no longer play flute, know how to read music and what the word embouchure means. This word is also the answer to the questions “what will get you beat up on a playground?” and “what will make your friends think you’re a pretentious douche?”

I married a programmer who was a drummer and keyboard player by night with a couple of bands. Most of our first year of dating involved concerts and bar bands, our first date a concert that included the Cowboy Junkies, Duncan Sheik, and John Hyatt. I discovered some of my favorite musicians at the Cedar Cultural Center, have gone to festivals and band battles. Over the last few years, we’ve traveled up to the Winnipeg Folk Festival. There’s nothing like acoustic musicians and singers under a clear Canadian night sky.

I play the flute and a little piano. My daughter plays viola and piano. My husband plays guitar, piano and drums. There is music in our house all of the time. If we were more talented on average (the kid is pretty awesome, but the adults could use some work), we’d have to buy matching outfits and a van.

The Kid and the Less Talented Old People doesn't really roll off the tongue as a band name.

The Kid and the Less Talented Old People doesn’t really roll off the tongue as a band name.

Music sinks deep down into my skin. It plays in my head constantly. I sing terribly every day, in the car and the shower, and awkward dancing is how my housework gets done. The only time I never play music is when I’m writing, because to me that is like trying to eat pie and cake at the same time. Each is enough on its own. Although sequentially, still quite delicious.

During the concert’s intermission, I took my daughter and one of her besties, a fellow violist, to meet the band. I gushed, I blushed, I stammered. The kids looked slightly mortified. There is something so magical about mere humans creating such beauty, that I am, to put it lightly, in awe of them. I don’t want to hang out with them. I don’t want to be them. I just want to thank them. I want them to know that what they do matters.

We’re living in a time when everything is processed, packaged and delivered to our devices. Live music is one of those things, like a mildewy paperback in a secondhand store, which reminds me that love is all about discovery. It’s a momentary kinship in time, when we connect with beauty and it feels like it was created just for us.

25 Comments on “The Blush of First Love: One Note at a Time

  1. I love music, and love to sing along. Unfortunately I couldn’t carry a tune if my life depended on it, even though my mother had a fabulous voice. I take after my father. My tone deafness never stopped me until a former boyfriend once told me he was going to start a band called Fransi and The No-Tones. That shut me up permanently, even in the shower (sigh).

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  2. I love this love letter to music! And I love music, but can’t make much of any (although certain cats like my bad singing and I can plunk a few piano notes). However, daughter has a beautiful singing voice. Need I mention that she was adopted?

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    • Thanks, Luanne. I’ve written a few posts about music – it’s really tough to capture its impact. My daughter played piano and sang at her school talent show a couple of years ago and I had to go stand in the back because I felt a huge blubber come on. It wasn’t necessarily the issue of talent – it was her confidence in her own abilities. That is absolute music to me!
      My cats dislike my singing almost as much as my flute playing!

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  3. That’s a good first date.
    I shared this video with a couple of music lovers yesterday. Pretty much sums up what music can do if we let it.

    I should get my clarinet out. Embouchure.

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    • Here’s me deliberately missing the point again. I’m distracted by the concept of sleeping naked while camping in that video. She is going to have some tragically misplaced mosquito bites. But she will make an easier meal for the bears who aren’t that fond of packaging (from what I hear). Maybe she could roll herself in barbeque sauce to be more helpful. Sleep on a plate…

      It was an awesome first date – we did our first wedding dance to John Hyatt’s “Have a Little Faith in Me” and saw him perform again up in Winnipeg in the pouring rain.

      Get out that clarinet, Ross. And let me tell you how eternally grateful I am that the kid did not start out with a reed instrument. That is a harsh learning curve. Squawk.

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  4. That’s a nice song, thanks for sharing it Michelle – and for featuring me here with all your friends! Feels great, thanks. I started watching that video from Ross but I don’t know, started getting this odd sensation. It beats the heck out of this other one I was watching though, for our German class tonight.

    Glad you liked that Hot Chip song — they are pretty cool I think.

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    • I love this German version! I’m going to be singing “Komm gib mir deine Hand!” for the next couple of days.

      I’m not particularly fond of the packaged music videos, especially when most of the female artists are put through the cookie cutter sex machine and spit out looking the same, regardless of musical talents.

      That’s one of the reasons I love indie artists and live performances in smaller venues. No flash, just raw talent tempered by practice and dedication.

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      • Well w/r/t the packaged cookie cutter video comment, check this if you haven’t.

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        • Oh shit, Bill, I don’t know if I was supposed to burst out laughing when the auto tuned boy band got lasered, but I did. I think it was out of fear that the whole video was going to be of them. Thanks for the laugh!

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  5. The only time I never play music is when I’m writing, because to me that is like trying to eat pie and cake at the same time.

    We talked about this in my writing group. Most of us admitted to using music to mask minor household distractions. (What? You were locked in the bathroom? I couldn’t hear you, I swear. Since you were in there for an hour, did you have time to wash your hands? No? Do it now.)

    We also agreed that it was not so much music that was distracting – but the lyrics. Instrumentals were just fine.

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    • I’ve tried it a few times and it distracts me. I tend to listen to music actively, which means background music hardly ever is. My mind goes to identifying which instruments are playing what and before I know it, I’m Googling 18th century composers. Three hours later, when I’ve been listening to MP3 clips and YouTube videos, not a word will have been written.

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      • Which raises the question, if musicians do not listen to music in the same way as non-musicians, do writers read differently from other readers? The answer obviously is yes. But does that mean they miss something?

        Another question comes to mind. When writers work with other writers in mind, does it detract from the non-writer experience?

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        • I think my brain just exploded with these very meta questions. The more I write, the more I read differently and finally got so fed up with writer distractions while reading, that I’ve taken to reading with a notebook and pen in reach. I write down vocabulary words and phrases, random questions – anything that will prevent me from getting back to reading the story.
          If I write with other writers in mind, the quality of my writing takes a dive – it’s part of this writer vs. storyteller quandary I’ve been experiencing lately. And yes, I think it does impact the non-writer experience because storytelling then becomes secondary to craft. I think a reader can tell when the story is a writer trying to impress other writers or critics or award panels.

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  6. So many ways our music-lives line up, Michelle. I detasselled for my alto sax and was first chair in the “B” band in high school–practiced and proud, but not talented. I could not live without singing, or my iPod, or my Pandora station (which now holds Amnesty–awesome song!). Seeing live performances is risky. My love for Neil Diamond evaporated after I saw what a dick he was on stage, but fell more in love with James Taylor with each concert. What I miss most (other than people) in Minneapolis: Cedar Cultural Center.

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    • As I’ve gotten older, I tend to avoid big show venues. Van Morrison seemed like kind of a douche on stage and John Cougar Mellencamp Whatever-the-hell-his-name-is-now had a whole stage production. I’m a bit of a purist – I just want to see the music being performed. No dancing girls or trapeze acts required.
      The Cedar Cultural Center is not the most comfortable venue, but they have so much talent going through there, it seems like a must-do in the Cities, if you love music.

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  7. Sorry. I got distracted by my envy at your attendance at the Defense Language Institute. I only just learned about them recently. Would love to go. Then learned: Yay! Free online courses! Registered, began, passed two levels first night. Logged in second night, their system told me I hadn’t even begun level 1. Frig. Night three, didn’t recognize my login or password. And it is a highly-secured system which warns you before you register that you’d better not forget that password, for you never get another shot. Good grief.

    Music? Yeah. Your family sounds like the way things should be.

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    • Hey – I missed this comment the first time around. Sorry for the delay in response! I attended DLI in the Army, so I would NOT love to go again, but if you can do it without the 5am PT runs, room inspections and daft quackery that is the military, go for it!

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