Musically, MissMeliss

Holidailies 2006

Last night, perched in bed with my laptop, I couldn’t get the song “The Man with the Bag” out of my head. I’ve always loved it, but I’d never really sung it. So I downloaded it, and then I downloaded the lyrics, and THEN I found the karaoke track. By the time we left for choir practice this morning, I knew the song, but it was still stuck in my head.

It’s had me thinking, also, about how much our relationships, and I don’t mean just the romantic ones, inform our choices, not just of politics, but of everything. The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the songs we love.

I grew up in a house filled with protest music – folk tunes and seventies rock. Peter, Paul & Mary, Simon and Garfunkel, Joan Baez, John Denver: these were the voices of my childhood.

At my grandmother’s house, I found a love of musicals, and a treasure trove of soundtracks – My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music (I remember that there were two copies of that record, because the original one had been scratched and skipped on the word “naive” in “Sixteen going on Seventeen.”), Pippin, Camelot and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, month others. I loved those records, because they were filled with singable songs that had real stories. (Always with me,there had to be a story.)

Modern musicals – Chess, Phantom, Les Mis – entered my personal vocabulary in high school. After all, it was a performing arts school. This was natural. (Two years before I started there, I’d wanted to be Puerto Rican, after seeing West Side Story for the first time. Ironically, my Caucasian-ness is what got me into my school, as much as my audition.)

My first really serious relationship – and I don’t mean my first sexual one – but my first grown up affair, was with a jazz musician. That he ended up being slime is secondary to the fact that he increased my mucial lexicon, introducing me to jazz and standards. Tony Bennet, Frank Sinatra Dean Martin, all the singers we mostly heard at Christmas – Perry, Bing, Nat, Rosemary and Judy – were suddenly surrounding me with decidedly non-holidayish sounds. And it wasn’t just the standards. Coletrain, Armstrong, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald…their music was wrapped around me as well.

Those introductions continue to inform my choices. My collection now includes the Indigo Girls and Antigone Rising, and, leftover from college in San Francisco, Voice of the Beehive – but it also includes Madeleine Peyroux, Vienna Teng, Celtic Woman, Harry Connick, Jr, and quite a lot of stuff by Jason Robert Brown (who I maintain is the best storyteller who ever sat at a piano), as well as the requisite Erasure, Barenaked Ladies, Loreena McKennit and Billy Joel cd’s.

And of course, as a cellist, there are the classical pieces – YoYo Ma and Jaqueline DuPre, yes, but also Apocalyptica and Von Cello, the latter two who use the instrument for metal and rock.

Why am I thinking about this?

Because today at rehearsal, I realized that I’ve grown to really love liturgical music, as well. I mean, I’m never going to CHOOSE to listen to the Christian rock praise music that Fuzzy loves, though I’m complaining about it less, but the hymns we sing each Sunday morning, and especially the traditional pieces we get to do during advent, are insinuating themselves into my brain. Example: I realized today that I love the song “Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming,” after years of thinking it was dull, and our new Lessons and Carols anthem “A Stable Lamp is Lighted” has this haunting Celtic-y/MiddleEastern influence that is just really amazing, and the imagery in the text is gripping:

A stable lamp is lighted
Whose glow shall wake the sky;
And stars shall bend their voices,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
And straw like gold shall shine;
A barn shall harbour heaven,
A stall become a shrine.

(That the alto part is wonderfully complex and interesting, is a mere enhancement to my attraction. Witness: I actually asked Clyde if we could do it for “regular” choir instead of just Lessons and Carols. He said it’s already on the roster for Advent IV.)

So, this is what my brain is centered on today. Not that this is unusual. After all, I’ve often explained that I think in music. And it’s true. I have a song in my head for every mood, every experience. I can’t name them all, but music is how I relate to the universe.