Wordsanctuary Revisited

Musings of a writer-teacher-counselor.

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Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

I am inquisitive and have worked in writing, editing, and teaching. I am a citizen of the USA and also concerned about the world. This is an addendum to my original blog, Wordsanctuary. That's at www.wordsanctuary.blogspot.com Please check out my column at www.insidehighered.com, "A Kinder Campus." Click on Career Advice to find it. Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Music Meditation

Birds dart about outside on this cloudy day, finding spots to rest on stretching power lines. In a burst of energy, they take off, then descend again quickly and make a new pattern. It seems an improvisation. The white sky contrasts with their dark shapes, reminding me of a musical score. Though I do not know the precise language of birds, I sense in their songs a lasting connection.

Inside, my house is also filled with music. My teenage son composes and plays violin. My husband enjoys CDs of jazz, blues, and country. My mother calls to share a few bars of another remembered German folk song. As her eyesight fails, her hearing and memory blossoms.

I put on my headset, for silence; I listen for rhythms within.

Whether a private song or a symphony in a concert hall, music has nourished my family of disparate backgrounds. I sometimes wonder if in the spaces between notes is also the key toward greater harmony for the world.

My mother sang with Catholic youth groups on hikes in Europe before World War II. My father, Jewish, was interred in the Lodz ghetto and later in a concentration camp. Recently I learned that songs of resilience and unlikely hope were sung in the ghetto. My parents met after the war and loved, among other things, music. Both had fine singing voices and found in music a penetrating power.

My son is growing up in a world that is both beautiful and marred by violence. Through his own example, he has shown me again that music helps us heal. When he was a premature bundle in late 1992, it was a long time before I thought of music.

On Christmas eve that year, my son was the smallest, frailest-looking child in the nursery, struggling with severe jaundice. "He has such a small mouth," a nurse said to me, and added quickly when she saw me start to panic: "My son had a mouth like that." Though carols echoed on the hospital radio. I had never heard them in a sad context before.

Just one year later, things shifted. My son was stronger; I had switched to a teaching career from a demanding public relations job. I discovered that the ups and downs of childhood and creativity go hand in hand—and that includes the parent’s creative process. There must be time to listen, to wait, to notice, to grow.

My son loved music boxes that we would wind up to entertain him—and keep him from squirming--when we changed his diapers. My engagement and wedding rings disappeared for a time. I found them months after I stopped looking. They were both tucked away safely, sidewise, in a favorite music box.

One day while cooking, I was puzzled to hear gentle notes being fingered on the piano. Could someone have broken into the house? Only my son—about eighteen months old--and I were at home. Entering the living room, I saw that he had gotten out of the playpen, pulled himself up and was playing the piano with his right hand.

The routine I had established--of putting him in the playpen so I could play--had created in him the irresistable urge to escape.

A few years later, a toy piano I gave him provided entertainment on car rides. And soon, he would start private lessons on piano and enjoy music at school.

My son now plays a violin that belonged to my aunt, who died five years ago. When my sister and mother crossed the ocean to see her in her final days, they were on a mission of love. A cousin insisted they take the violin, one of my aunt’s cherished possessions, back to the United States—though no one in our family played at that time.

One day in fifth grade, a “music day” was held at school. Students could handle and try any instrument. My son picked up a violin, drew the bow across its strings, and was told by his science teacher that he was “a natural.” We rented to own another violin. My aunt’s violin stayed in the box, unopened.

Slowly and steadily, my son’s technique developed…and then, with a private teacher, by leaps and bounds. As he prepared to go to a music camp this past summer, we had the old violin refurbished. It is light, flexible, and a good instrument for an emerging player.

I’ve sung in a choir or two and remember botching an audition and waiting a long time before daring to sing again. Part of expressing one's self is finding that courage to make mistakes and persevere. As I peel potatoes for dinner now, I hear a young man taller than me practice and hear his violin reach the pitch my heart would, if I could.

When a relative needs a lift, my son plays violin over the phone. When his private teacher suffered a stroke, my son took the violin to the convalescent facility to play for him. Music heals.

The album pages of memory stop at today. I do not know what my son’s future in music will hold. Whether it will be a vocation or lifelong hobby, I believe that it can be a powerful anchor--through soaring and plummeting rhythms of adolescence, young adulthood, midlife and beyond.

A mother's heart, from even the early weeks of a child’s life, is the first music he or she hears. No wonder that music reaches into the human heart to utter an enduring and universal language


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