Composing a Home
A sweet and soothing melody was common place for my ears. A broken home sometimes filled with tears could be temporarily comforted by a popular or not so popular tune. To some, music is a variety of sounds that you dance and snap your fingers to. And to some, home is a place where you rest your head and keep all your things. To me however, home is within music.
While I was growing up, my older brother and I were children of divorced parents. First we lived with dad and we would see mom on the weekends. Later we lived with mom and saw dad on the weekends. We grew used to the constant switching of families and switching of lives. Each family had its own distinct sound. Each set of grandparents danced to a different tune. As much change as we had to experience, the music was what held the pieces together; the glue that stabilized us.
At moms place, my brother and I would play outside with the neighborhood kids. I would run down the middle of the black paved street playing kickball. “Move out of the way!” I would scream when a car was coming. Dayna would be sitting on the side paving roads in the dirt for his matchbox cars, he was much more calm and somber than I. When the street lights would come on, it was time to go inside. Dinner, bath and off to bed was the routine. As we would lie down, we could hear the gentle melodic sounds of rhythm and blues echoing from the hallway and down the wooden stairs. It would be some classic slow tunes from the 70’s. You could always tell what mood my mother was in by which song she would play. Slow music meant she was sad and upbeat meant she was ready to party. But, most of the time, it was the slow tunes. There were rare occasions where we could hear soft whimpering through the music and as much as we would want to comfort her, we dare not get out of bed.
At dads place, we had a stepmother and stepsister. I don’t remember too many mornings not waking up to a fabulous big band blasting through the speakers! The three of us kids always woke up smiling and bouncing our shoulders. Breakfast was being prepared and all we needed to do was wash our faces and brush our teeth, and the day was off to a great start. At dads place there was a family car, the Subaru, and a fun car, the Camaro. Each car carried its own sound. The Subaru was filled with the Blues, and boy we would all sing along together as if we were on a family vacation each time we piled in. We didn’t listen to Rock very often, but when we did, we were riding fast with the windows down in the Camaro. The engine sounded like a racecar and motorcycle playing in unison. For some reason, rock music just seemed to fit right in, loud and intimidating. Dad kept a nice variety of music within the house from rock, jazz, and heavy on blues.
Somewhere along the way I picked up a trumpet and my brother picked up a saxophone. I was much too social in school to stick with being a trumpeter, or maybe I thought I was too popular in school and couldn’t keep up with my practicing. Yes, that’s more appropriate. But, where I slacked off, my brother blossomed. He gravitated to jazz. My grandfather, my mother’s father, was no slouch in that department. He too was a jazz saxophonist. So, my brother’s early influence was my father and grandfathers love for jazz. By high school years, he was composing music and leading his entire school’s music department with his grace and vision of what music should be. The years leading up to his composition was the constant practicing in the next room from mine day after day. As much as I loved music, the repetitive high riffs and low notes rang through my eardrums mercilessly. But, this made me a better listener. I was once told that the music hearer is just as important as the musician, for whom would the musician be playing? I took those words to heart and listened as much as I could since I shied away from my former love of playing music. Jazz was now a real powerful part of my life.
We had a couple of singers in the family too. Our stepmother had a deep, raspy, soulful voice that we could never get enough of. She sang to us kids as if she were telling us a campfire story. We were intrigued and waiting for the good parts which would be towards the end of the song. The end would be where she would adlib and hold notes for long periods of time. I would sometimes count the seconds of how long she could go before running out of breath. My mother’s sister was a jazzy singer. She could sing just about anything from jazz and r&b to rock ‘n roll. She was what we would call and “old school singer.” Old school singers had to be versatile, you had to be able to sing anything, and sing anything she could. The 80’s music was her favorite though, that’s what I most remember from her. She actually sang at clubs where she would bring me along knowing I was much too young to be there, but hey, I was “with the band.”
Listening to these women sing inspired my brother and I to share our voices with others. We would harmonize on the back of the public bus on the way to elementary school and put on shows for our peers as well as the adults riding along. We would sing Diana Ross and Stephanie Mills popular songs that we knew everyone would know. This was our way of keeping music alive and maintaining our personal bond.
Instruments, voice, and song recordings were the dynamics to music that kept my life steady and well established. I could move from one house to the next and yet feel very much at home. My different family members never knew the commonality they shared in my mind, how passionate they were toward their own form of music. They still haven’t a clue how connected they are and how I wear them around my neck like a gold-linked chain, each one of them being their own unique and stylish link. Music has become the safe haven I call home, a place I can always run back to.