I wish I could be a songwriter. I listen to the most beautiful melodies and I think, how did someone come up with that? How did someone string those notes together to make a phrase, stack those harmonies in that pleasingly discordant way, trick you into a new rhythm? How does someone find something within themselves that can be expressed through music? Every time I try to think about what it would be like to write a song, try to put a few notes together, I just think of another song I know, something that’s already been written. How do you fight that impulse, to sing what you know, and play something completely new?
It helps if you play an instrument, I think, because you have a better understanding of the possibilities. Outside of taking music classes in elementary school, where we learned about rhythm reading off different fruits, or learning about rests and the top hat that was full or empty, I never really learned music theory. I never really had to work at it, after the initial introduction. I still can’t really read what key a piece is in.
I definitely am grateful for the natural talent I inherited from my parents, who are both accomplished musicians. Music was always a part of our lives, and the games my sister and I would play would be accompanied by the most dramatic of compositions. We would come up with elaborate scenarios and act them out to our own soundtrack, thoughtfully curated by my mom. It was exhilarating, and it allowed me to both lose and find myself in a good piece of music. I would lose my sense of frustration, my confinement in reality. It would be my tether to my imagination, and I would find complex and indescribable emotions in the simplest and most beautiful of melodies. In other people’s orchestrations I find my own myths, and weave original fantasies, but what I can’t do, or haven’t really tried to do, is write my own music, to score my own stories.
The closest I can come, right now, is in my writing. It’s no wonder people discuss good writers and their rhythm, their cadence, their structure. Writing poetry or prose is like writing music, in a way. Just like beautiful music, beautiful writing can inspire joy, sorrow, pain, laughter. Sometimes that brings people together, and they find a form of understanding. It elevates their perception and sharpens their discernment. And sometimes people don’t hear what you hear, and it’s so difficult to explain why you love this song or that book so much, why those words or that melody touches something inside you close to nostalgia, or the need you don’t know how to express. We allow other people’s words and notes to voice the things we can’t. But can I?
Part of the problem is I am a bit of a perfectionist. When I want to learn something new, I want to be able to do it well right away, and that is often not the case. So I want to learn an instrument, but be so naturally talented at it I don’t really have to practice, and I can move immediately into writing gorgeous music that will be played the world over. Isn’t that what everyone wants? To be able to express themselves in a way that will be instantly understood? To not have to work for it?
But what instrument would I choose? The piano, like Regina Spektor? The harp, like Harpo Marx? The cello, like that beautiful woman with the dark curly hair who plays for the Denver Philharmonic? I want to choose an instrument that fits me, that matches my personality, maybe something a little unexpected. My voice has always been my instrument, and that comes naturally. I don’t really have to work for it. So what do I want to work for?
I am taking this opportunity, in this public forum, to vow to work harder, to find an instrument and stick with it, to practice and practice because I want to understand how to move the notes from my soul to the staff. I want to understand the true power of collaboration, to bicker with someone about how that note should be lower or higher, or the rhythm should be faster, or whether or not the harmony really works. I want to hum something that’s really and truly mine, that came out of my heart and brain, that is no one else’s.
Is that even possible? Is it even really in me? Or am I better of admiring the movements already written?