I had the loveliest experience last week. I play music occasionally with my friend David, who is, incidentally, a Buddhist. He ran into Marc a few weeks ago and told him he was going to record some songs and that I should call him. I did; we played music one night last week; and then Dave invited me into the studio on Friday.
My relationship with music is a little fraught. Growing up, I amazed my marginally-musical-at-best family with a big, big voice. “You just open your mouth and it comes out!” my mom once said. I starred in the school musicals and sang in all the choirs; I went to District chorus in Massachusetts, got chosen for the “special octet” at my school, and took classical voice for many years. In college I sang in an a cappella group and took jazz voice, too, and then somewhere along there I started to play guitar; later, after college, I sang in a bluegrass band for a while.
There’s my resume.
Growing up, there was always this expectation that I would be a performer my whole life. But there was also this expectation that I go to college, have something to “fall back on,” and because I didn’t come from a particularly musical family I was also content to be good enough; I’m terrible at music theory, and while I have a beautiful voice and a really good ear, if it’s not too conceited to say so, I can’t sightread to save my life and I’ve never moved from “okay” to “good” at guitar, despite having been playing for twenty years now.
So somewhere along the way, music kind of moved out of my life. And I have felt conflicted about it for many years. Honestly, it may be my last demon. I’ve worked out my relationship with my parents, I’ve forgiven my brother, I don’t have an eating disorder anymore–but I do have this tortured relationship with music. On some level, it’s a very practical sort of tortured: I chose not to pursue it. And I sometimes really regret that, or at least, I worry that I will regret it later. Marc has helped me to see that maybe the lifestyle that goes with the performing arts just wasn’t for me, and that’s something; writing fulfills me on a deeper, more true level than singing does. I have trouble putting down the pen (okay, the laptop), but I’m usually ready, after kicking ass on a few songs, to put down the guitar, accept some praise, and have a glass of wine.
Opportunities to make music and perform come up, of course, and I love them when they do. Last summer, for example, I was asked to sing at a fundraiser, and my friend Sean and I played a set to a rapt audience. It felt great. And then there was Dave, asking me to record with him.
That Dave is a Buddhist is relevant because, folks, I saw non-attachment in action on Friday. Originally I was singing harmony on Dave’s songs, but then he decided that because I have the stronger voice that I should sing lead. That I should inhabit lead. Standing in front of a microphone in a dark little studio in Oakland, I found myself singing like I was on trial. I did it in one take. And then with the help of a guitar-teacher-cum-wizard named Emery, we figured out some harmonies, and I sang those, too. The guys mixed it after I left, and on Sunday Dave popped by the CD. There I am, singing an alt-country song with some grungy guitar in the background. It sounds amazing.
And now, I have to figure out my complicated relationship to making music. In the meantime, I have this great CD to listen to.