Friday, April 30, 2010

Music in the Wind


At 3 pm on Thursday afternoon, I chased several pieces of sheet music across Amsterdam Avenue, pursued the papers as they flapped and flew in remarkable aerial acrobatic swirls designed to aggravate me and amuse everyone within viewing distance.

Of course I was on my BlackBerry with a client at the time, bounding up the avenue in the sunny – if windy -- afternoon, arms pumping happily in the abundant sunshine...which is likely the reason it happened.

"#$%&*@##$%$&*@%@#&$!" I exclaimed, dashing into the gutter to step on the first page of "Waltz #2," that wafted down on top of a sewer grate. Retrieving it, I saw the entire paper-clipped bunch of "Landslide" fluttering its way across Amsterdam. Bounding into the street, narrowly missing on-coming traffic, I spied "You May be Right" -- flattened against the side of a houseware shop back on the sidewalk.

Hollering and huffing, I grabbed my papers, stuffing them back into the folder.

"#$%&*&$#*&!!" I exclaimed, overcome by a sense of irony for it was this very folder of music that I had lost yesterday evening while shopping at Fairway...and reclaimed just half an hour earlier. What did it all mean -- first to leave the songs of one's heart in a supermarket basket, then to have them scatter to the wind when retrieved?

Were my songs attempting to escape???

Was this a sign to me...that I needed to break free?

Such are the machinations of my mind.

Back on the sidewalk, the spectators saluted me for my adept -- if foolhardy -- rescue of the imperiled papers. I accepted their kudos, thanking them and laughing ruefully.

It was then I remembered that the BlackBerry was still pressed to my ear and my quiet client had overhead the entire escapade.

The backstory on the lost folder of music is that I arrived late to my voice lesson the day before -- breathless, penitent, sheepish -- bursting into Mary's peaceful 9th floor studio like a clamorous, invading army, loudly declaring that, though I was egregiously late, this would be a power lesson.

What I missed in time I would make up in passion.

Ever patient and forgiving, Mary neither reprimanded me nor contradicted me. Brandishing the worn manila file filled with the sheet music I have collected over the past six months, I swept into the piano room. While I stared at my image in the mirror over the piano, Mary went to fetch me a glass of water.

I'm late, but it's okay, I reassured myself anxiously. Examining my reflection, I was visited by a familiar childhood musing: is this really the way I look? Is this the face that others see as well or is it my perception alone?? And just who am I?

The music holds part of the answer: I am the girl/woman who comes once a week to Mary's 72nd Street studio to sing sad and beautiful songs, who nurtures a love for energetic rock. Who dreamed of being David Byrne's girlfriend, who felt her life changed by Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and The White Album and wishes she could be as tough and cool as Joan Jett. Who sings My Sharona loudly at home, who introduced Little Babe to Duran Duran, who plays Name that Beatles Lyric -- a made-up game -- with him on long car rides and Shabbat afternoons.

Who cried through Leonard Cohen's last Madison Square Garden concert, sitting next to Big Babe, feverish and forsaken on a Friday night.

This self co-exists with my other selves, the ones who carry out the serious and adult stuff, of course.

In Mary's studio, I am a student singer, dutifully executing my voice exercises, pushed by my teacher to move out of my comfort zone in the bass notes, receiving praise for my lung capacity.

There, the other me -- mother, professional, wife -- retreats for thirty glorious minutes, and I am awash in timeless, universal emotion of the sort that inspires songwriting. Great loss pervades most of my favorite songs. So does the eternal yearning for true love.

“I rarely lose things,” I had told Mary as I prepared to leave, just 20 minutes later, while reflecting on my love of sad songs. “Loss is traumatic for me.”

And then, several hours and appointments later, I lost my sheet music at Fairway as I shopped… while taking a phone call from Middle Babe.

It is now Friday morning, the eve of Shabbat. The manila folder of sheet music rests on the dining room table, smudged with dirt. The papers within are still in disarray. I have not gone through them to check if all are there. The idea of having lost any pages is distressing to me. I don’t yet have the inner fortitude to find out.

Last night I spoke late into the night with an old school acquaintance who reconnected with me on the matter of adoption. We hadn’t spoken in decades – in fact, we barely knew each other -- but she called me to talk about her pervasive sense of loss, her issues with emotional abandonment.

“My life would be so much better if I didn’t have this emotional disposition,” she stated.

But you do, I told her. And I do. And it often blindsides us, making us sad and even dysfunctional for a time. But it also gives us emotional depth and maybe unusual empathy.

Over the past two days my music has been lost, found and nearly lost again.

The curse of multi-tasking, blabbing on my BlackBerry while completing other tasks, takes the metaphysical sting out of the situation, providing a perfectly pragmatic reason for why I first left my folder in the grocery store and loosened my grip on the folder while navigating my way northward on the streets of Manhattan.

And yet.

When I completed my twenty-minute power lesson on Wednesday, Mary praised me for my passionate renditions, the power in my lungs, the vitality in my singing.

My secret is an amped-up state of agitation, I told her, also known as shpilkes --an existential condition.

Not uncommon for people of the Jewish persuasion or creative types.

In fact, as I told HOBB, when I poured out my soul late Wednesday night in a torrent of tears whose catalyst was the pervasive, unyielding sense of loss, such emotional dislocation is the ideal state for creative expression.