Adding to My Personal Soundtrack

Quarta gregoriano

Quarta gregoriano (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t talk enough about the musical influences in my life. I know it’s all books-this and writing-that, but I really wouldn’t be the well-rounded individual that I am (ha) without the music in my life.

There are times when music surprises me; a song that I’ve heard many times will suddenly awaken a creative something within me. Since I’m a writer, that “something” is usually a scene in a book I’m writing. Sometimes it’s the “aha!” moment I’ve been waiting for. Other times (like what I posted about most recently), a novel almost gets derailed by a new scene that I never would have imagined, were it not for hearing the right song at the right time.

Then there are other times that music doesn’t necessarily evoke a specific image or scene, yet it fulfills some emotional (and I would go as far as to say spiritual) hole and leaves me pleasantly full and happy, even energized.

What brings all this up? Well, I’m kind of riding a high from attending an evening of uplifting, choral music. A boring way to spend a Friday night, right? Well, not if I got chills during the first song (I did) and can’t stop thinking about the sound and the joy on the faces of the singers (I can’t).

You see, that’s how it is in this relationship I have with music. Many songs or musical events become a part of what I think of as the soundtrack of my life. (Don’t worry, as a writer, I sometimes narrate my life, too, but today it’s all about the music.)

Alanis Morissette

Cover of Alanis Morissette

For instance, any time I hear “The Sign” (Ace of Base), I’m overcome with nostalgia – it’s the title song of my first CD. The same goes for Alanis Morisette’s Jagged Little Pill; I bought that CD in the seventh grade, and so did my husband. It’s part of our middle school soundtrack.

And so it continues: musicals I participated in as a teenager, such as Annie and Fiddler on the Roof; Metallica’s S&M CD (one of the best Christmas presents Thomas ever bought); our first System of a Down CD, which we bought and listened to when we drove to a Gator football game; the mix CD Thomas’s brother burned for us a couple days before we got married, so we listened to it everywhere we drove on our honeymoon. And our wedding itself contained a mini-concert. Some people told me it was a long ceremony because of all the music. But we’re musical people. Thomas’s grandfather was in a band. My mom’s mom and dad’s dad were both organists. It’s in our DNA.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Bohemian Rhapsody (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So I’m raising my kids right, making them listen to “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Thriller” wherever we go. (Hey, I also downloaded “Let It Go” – don’t worry.) I’m helping them create their own soundtracks.

Most recently, I’ve discovered Rachael Sage; her single “Happiness (Maddie’s Song)” just came out on iTunes. I heard it once and couldn’t stop humming it for a couple days. And then there’s Pentatonix. I love it when someone posts one of their new songs on Facebook – which I’ll watch over and over, to my children’s chagrin. And Bastille – who doesn’t dig a rocker with a cool British accent?

Rachael Sage

Cover of Rachael Sage

Every new song, every concert, is a possible source for inspiration, but it goes deeper than potential best-selling novel ideas (as nice as they are). Songs are little triggers. I can hear one in the grocery store and be transported back to the fourth grade. Or remember the last concert I attended with a friend before she passed away. They’re pieces that may not always seem to go together – discordant, you might say – yet they make up the puzzle of me. And as strange as it may seem to hum classic rock in the store, listen to folk songs in the car, and spend an evening listening to choral music, I totally dig the big picture.

And it just keeps getting bigger. But I wouldn’t call that a bad thing.

My Story As Told by Music Part II

My husband and kids are used to it by now—me walking around the house and singing like I’m starring in my own personal musical. I won’t even realize I’m doing it, and my husband will comment that it’s been a long time since he’s heard that particular song. Music energizes me, inspires me to write, and gives me a creative outlet that I can share with others. I have been in one kind of chorus or another since I was in the first grade, when I started singing with my church’s children’s choir. Church, school, community chorale—the longest I’ve gone without singing in a group was the first year I homeschooled, but even then I tagged along with my parents to the Don Thompson Chorale’s rehearsals every Monday night. The members eventually got tired of seeing me sitting there and allowed me to rehearse with them. A year later, I made it to full-fledged performer, my first concert being the weekend of my fifteenth birthday.

Many important events in my life have been marked by music, from the day my husband and I started dating (which happened on a chorus trip) to our wedding five and half years later (the Don Thompson Chorale sang five pieces at our wedding) to the births of our two sons (I sang a requiem the day the first was due, although he didn’t grace us with his presence for another eight days, and I performed in a concert exactly one week before the second one was born).

Some of my favorite performances were in grand settings with mass choirs. I sang three times at Epcot in Disney World. My high school chorus performed in district and state festivals every spring, which allowed me to sing, among other places, at both the University of Florida and Florida State. With the Don Thompson Chorale, I have performed in the Florida Theatre and the Times-Union Center. My most memorable performance was in Carnegie Hall, but before you get all impressed, I was one of at least two hundred people. Even better than the setting, our conductor was John Rutter, the composer of the Requiem we performed (that’ll mean something to you if you’re a choral buff).

And now for my shameless plug—I have yet another opportunity to make wonderful memories in my near future. The Don Thompson Chorale, which has performed one hundred fifty concerts to date, is giving a free concert at the Jacoby Symphony Hall at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts on September first. Our previous performances there were with other choirs. This will be the first time we’ve done it on our own. And this concert is particularly special because we are celebrating our Director Emeritus Don Thompson’s seventy-fifth birthday. Students from his college directing days are joining with former and current Chorale members to provide an evening of choral fun in the River City (click here to listen to us). Oh, and by the way, it’s FREE! Check out the graphic below for details, and I hope to sing for you there.

My Story As Told by Music Part I

I get it honest, even if I don’t have a lot of it. Musical talent, that is. My maternal grandfather was a percussionist and wrote snare drum cadences that were used for years in solo percussion competitions. My maternal grandmother was an organist, my paternal grandfather an organist and elementary school music teacher. Both of my parents’ sisters were/are singers and instrumentalists. My dad’s younger sister gave me piano lessons for almost thirteen years (poor thing). She taught my cousin fifteen years, and now he’s the worship director at his church.

But it’s what my parents did with their musical talents that matters most to me. My mother was in high school chorus, and I suppose if my dad had started singing back then, they would have met sooner. Instead, he was in the marching band, playing bass drum, or in the orchestra playing bassoon. He earned a full scholarship to FSU for his musical talents, but thank goodness he decided he wanted to go on a European tour instead.

Mama and Daddy in Leningrad, 1975

It was well-known in 1974 that the Florida Junior College (now Florida State College at Jacksonville) had a chorale whose director liked to take his students overseas every other year. My mother sang with him for the first tour in 1973. By the fall of 1974, she should have moved on to an upper school like the University of North Florida, but something made her stick around—that something being the upcoming trip to the then-Soviet Union and Austria. It was this same trip that attracted Daddy away from the band and to a chorus, where he met my mother, fell head-over-heels for her, and they’re still together today.

I grew up singing in my church’s children’s choir, and I was always in a chorus in school. High school proved a challenge because I chose to homeschool my last four years. Year one found me a chubby, reclusive couch potato, and my cousin (the worship director) suggested I join the summer musical program at his school, where they were performing Annie. I did, kind of kicking and screaming in my non-violent way. The male lead, it turned out, was my future brother-in-law. Despite myself, I loved every minute and was allowed to join the school’s chorus and musical theatre program, and that’s where I met my husband. Not as enthusiastic a musician as I was, still, he was involved so he could spend time with his elder brother and cousin before they graduated. He quite literally swept me off my feet as my dance partner in my second musical, Once Upon a Mattress.

So thank you, music, for bringing my parents and my husband and me together. In fact, the four of us (with several other aforementioned family members) sing together every Monday night with a volunteer choral group. . . the choral group that formed from the original chorale from my parents’ college days. It’s called the Don Thompson Chorale, and they even performed at our wedding in 2004.

The Don Thompson Chorale at our wedding, June 12, 2004 (photo credit: Joe Parker)

Stay tuned for a post about the Don Thompson Chorale’s free concert at the Times Union Center for the Performing Arts on September first.