Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Make a little birdhouse in your soul

I've been a musician literally almost my entire life. I took piano lessons in elementary school. Since sixth grade, I've played clarinet. In high school, I picked up alto saxophone. At one point in my teens, I played three different instruments in three different bands. I've dabbled with trumpet, bassoon, accordion, and bass guitar. I'm currently teaching myself ukulele, with enough success that I've written one song.

Even before I could speak, my mom tells me slow songs and beautiful melodies would make me cry ("Silent Night" usually was the go-to for waterworks). There's never been a time when a moving melodic line or intricate chord progression didn't send chills up and down my spine, even if I'd heard the song 1,000 times. This song, for example, does it every time without fail:

Birdhouse In Your Soul - They Might Be Giants
1990 - Elektra Records

The first time I heard "Birdhouse In Your Soul" live, I cried. The second and third time I heard it live, I also cried. Call it cheesy, but it was a spiritual experience each time. I listened to it nonstop when my dad passed away. I have a huge, custom tattoo stretching across my chest dedicated to this song. It was the recessional at my wedding. It will undoubtedly be played at my funeral (hopefully a long time from now!).

Music has always moved me in a way nothing else can. Writing has always helped me harness the passion and creativity that music stirs up in me, and my junior/senior year English teacher always hoped I'd pursue writing as a career (and looking back, she was right, and I wish I'd pursued it). (I considered majoring in clarinet performance and band education, but felt I didn't have the chops, patience, or memorization skills for it.)

However, I have a lot of trouble writing music and lyrics. I think my hangup is that I hold myself to a much higher standard than is attainable for someone who plucks away at a $20 ukulele in her free time. My husband has encouraged me to write more music (the first song I ever wrote was written for him, and I almost couldn't finish playing it because his tears brought on my own). I'd love to be playing coffee shops and bars with other musicians.

I can't kick the feeling of not being good enough, though. I feel like every line of lyrics or chord progression I write is boring, played-out, and too similar to other people's work. I live in constant fear of performing with a horribly out of tune instrument that causes patrons to cringe, or forgetting the words or chord progressions to my own songs on stage mid-performance (or looking like an idiot for having a notebook in front of me as I perform). I worry that my voice -while I enjoy it quite a bit- is too weak or mediocre to be bearable, being a husky contralto the likes of Lorde, though with slightly less upper range and strength.

I willingly let myself go into these darker recesses of my mind, allowing myself to dredge up my feelings of anxiety, depression, inferiority, and inadequacy in hopes of something sparking inspiration, and all I can come up with is boring, broody, trite material that sounds like the stoned ramblings of a teenage goth kid who hates gym class and his parents because they make him wear polo shirts when they visit grandma and won't sign off for him to get that psick tatt of a crying demon on his forearm ("this house is a prison!"). It makes me question so much about my own feelings and hangups and anxieties and even my ability to express myself. The last person who complimented my writing style perpetually pisses on my leg and insists that it's raining, so I have trouble NOT taking it with a grain of salt. The only other people who I let even come close to reading what I have to write are my mother and my husband, and while I value their input, it feels almost necessary for them to go easy on me. The closest I come to putting my writing out there is this blog, which is just stream of consciousness ramblings for my own sake for the most part (a semi-anonymous public journal more or less) and not proofread or even written in a way that's intended to be thought-provoking or interesting. 

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