writing our way into the music

This morning, all the grey outside feeds me, and I am grateful for the birds at the feeder, grateful that the man outside with his cart has on what looks like a raincoat, grateful for the decaf in my cup and the xmas music coming from the speakers on the computer.

Good solstice to you today. Here it’s the shortest day of the year, and the longest night. How will you honor all the good dark around you? How will you welcome the returning of the sun? I’m into the music and the sweet difficult of it today. Now and again, not at all infrequently, when I tune into the xmas music stations (well, never at somafm), I’ll get some Mannheim Steamroller. You’ve likely heard some of their Christmas music — it’s pervasive from the day after Thanksgiving on, the electronic remakes of old holiday standards that they released twenty-some years ago.

The members of Mannheim Steamroller are based in Omaha, and I can remember a couple of years that we went to their big holiday concert extravaganzas, complete with light shows, chorus, dancers, the works. I remember the concerts being held at the opera house, and that we got dressed-dressed. These were outings with my mother and stepfather, meant to be enjoyable, meant to be celebratory. These nights always ended with some drama or another, as did any outing with this man– he would find some offense to blow up into an all-night argument or interrogation– so hypervigilance and panic kept me from ever truly being able to enjoy myself. Still, during the concert, I could lose myself for moments in the music. Something in me would dissolve away from my own life and find freedom in the lights and the emotion. This experience was powerful — and dangerous, too, of course: how much harder it was to sink back down into the captivity that my stepfather held us all within after touching these sites of liberation.

For years I couldn’t listen to Mannheim Steamroller, any of their music. I switched off the radio when one of their songs began to play. I gave away the cd. What to say about this? I didn’t want the memories, the tangling of pleasure with memories of loss and indignity. I’d come to associate him with these songs, and I wanted him washed out of all of my life. He didn’t get to have me in any way, and especially not through the radio, captive in my car.

Something shifted in the last several years, however. Who can find language for these sites of transition? I begin to look forward to hearing “Stille Nacht” or “Deck the Halls” as interpreted by Chip Davis and Jackson Berkey. The upbeat songs give me space to smile at myself and how excited I was to discover electronic music. The melancholy songs bring tears to me for that girl I was and for my sister — I remember who we were then, how competent and happy we appeared to the outside world, and who we had to be behind the doors of my stepfather’s home. What a gift, to be able to hold this music now, and the memories that come with it — to mourn and laugh and experience nostalgia rather than simply sorrow and rage.

What songs mean Solstice or winter to you — or Hanukkah or Denali or Eid or Kwanzaa or Christmas? What’s the music that brings that holiday/season most strongly into your (or your character’s) mouth and chest? Can you take fifteen minutes today or this weekend and write about the songs of your or your character’s holidays? What memories arise upon hearing those songs — and how old are you (again) when you hear them? Do you hear the voices of others, or are you alone? Follow your writing wherever it wants you to go.

I am grateful for the music in you today. I am grateful for your song, and for your words.


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