When I was doing Life Coaching sessions, I had clients who were trying to find their true selves. They’d gotten bogged down in life, being the responsible adults they ‘should be’; they’d lost who they were before adult responsibilities weighed them down. I’d suggest activities that would help them go back to what they loved as a child. Perhaps they would find clues to what gave them joy, what made them unique.
I look back at what caught my fancy as a girl. When I think of my first response to the question,”What do you want to be when you grow up?” what I would have said was “A Motown Back-up Singer.” I wanted to be in the Supremes, standing behind Diana Ross, wearing a beautiful dress and entertaining the excited crowd.
From the start I didn’t want to be the big deal, the lead singer with the responsibility of carrying the show. I preferred the background, having fun without all that pressure of the spotlight. I’d like to be dancing to the music and singing those rich harmonies. But as you might guess, I discovered that I could never be one of them; I wasn’t the right color; never saw a white girl growing up to do that.
While that first idea of what I wanted to be didn’t materialize into a life-calling, a career— looking back, I see that it did contain a clue to what is essential for me: music.
Over the years, I’ve recognized how others’ loved music– people who played instruments, sang in choirs, formed bands, collectors of albums. I wasn’t as quick to see it in myself.
The times in my life when I’ve realized how much I needed music were often crisis points. As a junior in college, I remember being very overwhelmed, trying to make it through the UNC School of Nursing. On Friday afternoons, I’d return from class to the quiet of my apartment with my roommates gone for the weekend. I’d put my only Christian music album, Andre’ Crouch’s Live at Carnegie Hall, on our stereo and play it while cleaning, wondering, “What was my grade on that physiology test?” “Is my renal failure patient going to make it to my next clinical day?”
That music lifted me to a place of greater calm and confidence; the same is true of other times over the years since the mid-seventies. I listened constantly to songs of faith when going through breast cancer treatment– Amy Grant’s “Hold Me Jesus” comes to mind. Through the tough days of the isolation of the pandemic while going through divorce, Darlene Zschech and William McDowell’s “Way Maker” was one of my go-tos. Songs outside of the Christian genre have also helped in those hard times, and I think of Bill Wither’s “Lean on Me” and how people have referenced those lyrics when offering support.
Songs of faith have enhanced my joy when I experienced good times– and I think of Chris Tomlin’s “How Great is Our God.” Other songs like Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy” have transported me to a brighter place when the load of life has threatened to push down that happiness.
Music has called me to think more deeply about my faith when I’m in a contemplative mood, and that calls to mind Chris Tomlin’s song, “Is He Worthy?” Songs that came out of the sixties and questioned the war and racial conflicts have made me look back at that time from the lens of an adult.
Besides what music does for me when I listen, it also impacts me when I’m dancing; the two go together like hand and glove. Since I’ve been dancing over the past ten years, I’ve learned a lot about different genres of music that are played for my preferred styles of dancing: East and West Coast Swing and Country 2-Step. In the past year, I’ve listened to more Beach Music and took my first classes in Carolina Shag Dancing this month– that partner slot dance that originated along the Grand Strand of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. With the help of the three DJs that play at my dance venues, including Wesley, Gary, and Mel, I’ve been introduced to many singers that I didn’t know. There’s been no better time to learn about music with the help of YouTube, my Shazam app, and Smart speakers.
Last Wednesday night at Loafer’s, I was dancing with my Carolina Shag instructor, Don so that I could practice my steps–particularly the pivot. The preceding night, he’d taught that step and danced it with each of the female followers. He went through the steps without music, checking to see if we were understanding what he’d taught. On Wednesday night, we danced with the music playing a beach song that I liked.
“You’re more relaxed than when we danced in class,” Don commented, with a slight grin, then added, “Good job.”
I was pleased, always glad to get it right with the teacher.
“That’s because I could feel it in the music,” I responded.
When I love the music, I get out of my head and into my body, making the steps and moves natural and in harmony with the song.
Recently I’ve been listening to the music of Eva Cassidy. I first became aware of her on Sunday nights when Wesley plays her version of “Wade in the Water” for West Coast Swing dancing. Not knowing anything about her, I did my Google research and learned that she’d become popular after her death in 1996 at thirty-three years old. While her songs have been around for a long time, they’re new to me. They’re a good choice for my listening when I need to stay away from songs that call up too many memories–like when I’m trying to get to sleep. They’re also a ‘competing noise’ for the ones that are in my ears.
Let me explain.
Within the past few years, I’ve been diagnosed with hearing loss. Part of the issue is tinnitus— which clinicians have described as ‘ringing in your ears.’ When I had been asked if I had that symptom, I always responded, “No.” For me, as a child of the sixties, ringing meant the sound of a black rotary dial telephone–the one we had in our family room. But later, when I was evaluated by an audiologist, I discovered that the often-present sounds of background buzzing–that were like what I remembered as crickets in a hay field, was tinnitus.
In reading more about this health problem, I found this overview on the Mayo Clinic site:
Tinnitus is when you experience ringing or other noises in one or both of your ears. The noise you hear when you have tinnitus isn’t caused by an external sound, and other people usually can’t hear it. Tinnitus is a common problem. It affects about 15% to 20% of people, and is especially common in older adults.
This is the Clinic’s partial description of the symptoms:
Tinnitus is most often described as a ringing in the ears, even though no external sound is present. However, tinnitus can also cause other types of phantom noises in your ears, including: buzzing, roaring, clicking, hissing, humming.
When I told my doctor about the sounds being worse at bedtime when I was trying to fall to sleep, I mentioned that it was easier if I played music.
“You’ve discovered your own noise cancelling headphones,” she responded. I hadn’t known that was one of the ways people dealt with the disruption of tinnitus.
So now, with my smart speaker on my bedside table, I call out to my girl, “Alexa, play Eva Cassidy” and she follows my instructions and the soothing songs help lull me to sleep.
Yesterday, when I was working on this post and had just found the photo of The Supremes, I wanted to listen to their songs. I called out to my girl, “Play the Supremes.”
The first song came on with the volume too loud, “Stop in the name of love, before you break my heart.”
An image flashed of me as a Back-up Singer wearing a floor length ice-blue gown with long matching gloves, my hand outstretched in a traffic cop’s STOP signal.
“Alexa, you’ve been eavesdropping,” I said, and thought about all the conversations I’ve had about heartbreak and dating. LOL!
I wonder what it is from your childhood that helps you remember who you were then so you can find who you want to be now? Do you share with me in the way music impacts your life? Is there something else that transports you and helps you get through tough times and potentiates your good times?
My hope is that you, too will find the music that can carry you. That you’ll open your heart and ears to old songs made new, or new songs from artists you’ve just discovered. Music is a gift that can soothe an aching heart, brighten an already sunny day, or transport us to new worlds of understanding and imagination. It’s there for the taking.
Peace and Blessings to You All,