Saturday, January 13, 2007

Aural Memories

I am a very auditory person. I can hear a song a couple of times and know it entirely; I hear it, note for note, beat for beat, in my head. I can play whole CDs that way; I can hear the entire script and soundtrack of movies I've seen many times in my head, although conjuring up images is harder, and I only get them in little flashes here and there if I close my eyes and concentrate hard.

This is probably one reason I was always into Drama as a kid (besides me being a natural drama queen, I mean); I had no trouble with memorization and was able to put my whole attention into learning blocking and the nuances of expressive acting. It's probably also why I have always sung. I grew up in a musical family, and I dabble in a few instruments here and there, but what I really do is sing. I have no trouble remembering the words or notes (or chords or how fast we are going.) I have near-perfect pitch and can hear when I'm out of tune with what I should be singing. (Unfortunately, this does not mean I always hit the right note! ;) But it does mean that I know when I'm not. Or when someone's guitar is out of tune. Which can actually be kind of annoying; I have been known to be sitting out playing with my kid, hear some young person practicing, and not be able to stand it and have to go over and tell them, "Your "D" is a quarter-step flat." *winces* )

In any case, it also means that I know the words to so many songs, I can't number them, and have no trouble learning more. I love singing with a group. I've been singing in choirs since I was 3 years old, in church, at school, or in the community, there's never been a period of more than 7 months (usually pregnancy- or baby-related) when I have not been in a choir since I was 3, and often in more than one. I thrive on it; while I am a ham I enjoy being able to work hard to blend in, to be part of an awesome effort with a group, all of us working together for a joint end result. I imagine it's something like what team sports must be, if you like playing sports (especially when you're in HS and get to go to the competitions. My HS choir never got less than two "Excellents" out of three pieces, and if we had, we would have been very disappointed in ourselves.)

I also love singing at "jams", the informal music parties where everyone just sits around, snacks, and performs the music we all love together, helping each other out. I'm frequently asked to take the lead on one or more verses of the songs while everyone joins in on the chorus, simply because I know all the words, can sing loud enough to be heard, have good tone and pitch, and can keep in time. I've been going to these parties almost since I can remember; I remember joining in on the singing as early as four or five. Usually back then it was a duet with my daddy. But it always made me feel included, loved, supported; I had a whole community of people who never put me down but always praised me while gently guiding me in how I could improve. What a wonderful thing for a child to have! I was never told that my selection of song was not what they wanted to do; even if it wasn't quite where they were going with the music right then or they were a little bored that I always picked the same few songs, when the turn came around to my part of the circle they honored my choice and I always got it, same as everyone else. And so I developed a love for all the music they sang and played, from the Beatles to what I now know to call "old-timey" and "traditional American" music, to Stephen Foster, to the timeless songs that have been loved in every English-speaking country for centuries (like "Annie Laurie" and "Loch Lomond") and back to the Eagles, Kate Wolf, and modern-day folk.

My mother always sang around the house, too. She didn't have a guitar always around like my dad; she played the violin as a child and sometimes played piano marches for us to get us to "march" to the bath or bed or the dinner table, but mostly she was always singing. While we cleaned the house, while we drove on long car trips, while we waited in empty, boring doctors' offices, we would harmonize, mostly on old-time Gospel songs and hymns. She sang lullabies to us at night and when those ran out, quiet hymns, "Rock of Ages" being a favorite (which I still sing to my babies when they're fussy, as I imagine thousands of women have before me.) I developed a special love for those old hymns, and still love them today. I listen to "bluegrass Gospel", the old-timey hymns I love sung by people who love them as much as I do. And sometimes late at night when we run out of songs to sing at a party, those old hymns are the last ones that everyone knows, and we turn to them, raising our voices in the songs of faith and praise that mean a lot to me, even if they might just be music to many in the room. "Glory Land (This World Is Not My Home)", "Do, Lord", "What a Friend We Have In Jesus", "Just a Closer Walk With Thee", and most especially, "Amazing Grace."

"Amazing Grace." Just writing the name brings back a flood of memories attached to that music. The countless harmonies I've sung, the times I've taken the melody, the flute, guitar, mandolin, fiddle, bass, tinwhistle, even shakers, every instrument in the room playing along, that the one hymn that everyone there knows, without fail. The times I've sung it in joy and the time the words came to my lips with tears when I mourned the loss of a childhood friend. How I wrote of what those words meant to me and gave it, with our other drawings, letters, everything, to her family, and was touched when they took to heart part of what I had written and used it in the memorial service. Rooms full of people quieting and harmonizing the words, tears in my eyes or a calm in my soul as I am soothed by them. There's only one other hymn I can think of that is so well known, and that is "Silent Night."

I wonder sometimes at why my memory seems often to work so much differently from others'. It doesn't seem fair that I could read the chapter the night before the test and get an "A", while others (like my husband, I know) study with all their might and barely pass. Or that I can learn a difficult piece in about two or three practices while it takes others a full eight or ten to learn it. Or that despite all this, I have trouble with names and faces. But then I realize how much these memories mean to me; that I can close my eyes and hear the voices of those I love and miss, that I can comfort myself with music any time I want, that I can quote scriptures and hymns to remind myself of things I need to remember in stressful situations. And I'm glad for this memory, which could easily become a curse to some, and what a blessing it is to me, if I choose to make it so.


Mean Mommy said...

Beautiful. Especially that last bit.

txmommy said...

that's kind of cool!, I don't have a good memory for voices.