Magic music

I play cello. I haven’t picked it up in a long time, but I still consider myself a cellist. I didn’t lug that giant thing back and forth on the school bus for nothing, after all.

I played in the school orchestra from fourth grade until graduation—literally, we played the national anthem at graduation. I miss the people more, perhaps. The conductor was with us from our first clumsy notes to our final hurrah, and many of my closest friends are cellists or violinists (we had a string orchestra separate from the band), but I miss playing music, too. I miss being in time with fifty other people, I miss breathing in sync with them under hot lights.

Beyond nostalgia, I miss being a “cello.” That’s what we were called, “the cellos,” and we had our own little culture. Cellos were always the bassline, so we flew under the radar most of the time. Since we were low and had easy parts, we shone in the conductor’s eyes. No one could come close to our low, booming radiance. We led the orchestra from behind, we drove the high-pitched melody of the violins. We made the audience feel the music vibrate in their ribcages. We made the curtains flutter with sound.

Being a cellist had its downsides, too. Since we had easy parts, we didn’t learn as much. We didn’t look as nice, and I already mentioned lugging the giant thing everywhere.

Worst of all, we couldn’t wear skirts or heels. Being a cellist meant having your legs spread and your feet flat on the floor. No skirts, no heels. I was restricted from wearing skirts to school for nine years. I didn’t mind too much, but playing a cello did result in feeling less pretty.

Maybe it was this lack of daintiness that gave us our power. I felt confident when playing the cello. We were the hidden powerhouse. People watched the violins, but heard the cellos, pounding away with strong arms all swaying in sync. I was hidden behind such a gorgeous instrument people forgot I was the one playing—which made me play all the better.

I miss the community, the strength, the power, the camaraderie, the beauty, the sound, the feel of a cello. I miss feeling the strings simmer beneath my fingers, I miss feeling the edge buzz against my knees. I miss the rattle my earrings made when I played too loudly. I miss the ache in my bowing arm, I miss the cramps in my fingers.

I believe music is something inherently human. Though it seems harder to be blind than deaf, music is the one thing that would give me pause if I had to choose one over the other.

Anyway, I bring all this up because I went back and watched my high school orchestra, or what remains of it 2 years after graduation, play their spring concert Thursday, and they were not great. It made me wonder if we sounded so mediocre from the audience when we played. Maybe it doesn’t matter. From our seats in the bright lights, music filling our lungs, we sounded magic. That’s all that matters in the end.

The Breath of a Church Organ

Today I conducted an interview from inside a church organ. The man who restored the 130+ year old organ with his father explained how the air flowed through the reservoir and into the pipes. We sat in a space below and behind these pipes, hidden from view, studying the enormous inner workings of the beautiful instrument. His father sat at the console, pressed the keys, and I was instantly surrounded by music.

Inside the womb of the organ, I could see the whole thing breathe as it created the sound that filled the church. The reservoir was like a lung, sucking in pressurized air and deflating as it exhaled into the pipes. The pipes—over a thousand of them—were like long metallic necks, stretching up like herons.

I could have stayed there forever. I probably would have gone deaf eventually, but honestly, I could have stayed there forever. I wrote notes leaning on the reservoir, and it was like my notebook was floating. The wall behind me vibrated with the lower pipes. The chimes, dangling from the opposite wall, sang along with the mingling chords. I could see it all happening. I could hear it all happening. It was alive, and so was I.

On the way home, singing to the radio, I thought about how my body was like an organ. I had lungs pushing air out my throat, making my vocal chords vibrate and sing. An organ is like a part of the body. Perhaps that’s why it’s called an “organ.”

The Magic of Music

How strange is music? I love music, but it is strange. We fill the air in our rooms and cars with sound we find pleasing, punctuated with words we memorize and smile to. Movies are boring without music, as are parties. It makes everything better. There are very few things that are made worse with music.

I go through phases of how much I listen to music. Moving to the city hinders my music amount, since I don’t have a car radio to listen to. Without a car, I don’t listen to the radio, and without a radio music becomes somewhat of an effort to enjoy. I have to own the song or find it online, choose it, play it, and when it’s over choose another. The surprise is gone, the joy, the ease. So I end up not listening to it as much–not to mention the voice in my head telling me I could be doing something more important than chilling out, listening to music.

But someday, like today, I wake up and feel a hole in my heart and realize I might just need some music to fill it. Music, I feel, is one of the most human things we have. It’s a healing ritual, a celebration, a necessary part of human life. It’s a part of my soul, and my body.

So I put on some music, and then buy some music, and then play some music, and then write some music, and I feel much happier. I feel connected, even though I’m alone in my room. I feel happy, even though nothing about my situation has changed. It’s something I can do privately while feeding my introversion but can also share with friends. It’s something that gives me chills and makes me warm all at once.

My cousin is four years old. I see him dancing, singing, memorizing lyrics, and I know he’s going to be a fantastic little musician one day.