The Music in my Ears

by Susan G Holland, with gratitude to John Cage, Gibson, and my musical family

Music is there for us the minute we can hear — inside the womb, even! 
The heartbeat of the mother. Whatever sound the mother’s body makes as she moves around and works and rests and speaks and sings and argues and laughs.

For me, it was augmented by songs of childhood, games with little ditties, and the music that surrounded my parents’ world. “Let me Call You Sweetheart” was my Dad’s sort of contribution. My mother was a classical pianist. Chopin and Beethoven and Christmas Carols and the new-fangled LP’s that replaced the scratchy old 78’s on the phonograph player.

From my first “official” job as an advertising artist, soon after art school, I savored the nice paycheck, and bought a Magnavox Radio and Record player for my parents; an upgrade from the old Philco that we had plugged into the wall.

The Magnavox had good speakers and you could stack records to drop automatically one after the other onto the turntable, and the needle arm came over without having to be handled manually!

This looks exactly like the record player I bought my parents.

It could play the heavy old 78’s at one setting and the new-fangled LP’s at another. Our record collection grew to include Grieg, and Liszt and Gershwin and Benny Goodman and Mario Lanza!

The old German Ibach Baby Grand Piano got a workout too, with beginning piano lessons and a good deal of Chopsticks and Heart and Soul played on it as well. And Christmas Carols! I can see that beat-up old yellowing book with the black and white illustrations in my mind as if it were yesterday!

Same model Ibach as the one in our livingroom!

Just as there was original art on the walls (we had an artistic family) there was a pile of sheet music and books of classical music bursting out of the lidded piano bench. And a piano tuner who came periodically and held me rapt for his entire process. And he gave me a tuning fork that was as precious as jewelry.

I can hear the squeak of that foot pedal platform, looking at this image, and that gets me to the point I started out to make.

Everything is music! And even when a person’s hearing begins to wane, the music goes on, in memory. The percussion of a unique footstep on the stairs, and the whack of the screen door. The distant whoops and laughter at the swimming pool down the hill from our house. The crackle of the fire.

And the tone of the vacuum cleaner! I learned to hum a counter-note to the old Electrolux and either harmonize or make an un-harmonious chord that gave me shivers just for the fun of it. And one could trumpet through the chrome tubes of that machine too!

About the aging and the creeping deafness now.

My ears are failing at nearly 80 years of age. The high notes left first. And the percussive sounds like s and th and ck have disappeared significantly. I can still hear baritone quite well and bass. But the high notes escape me. In the other room, music sounds strangely familiar and makes me puzzle until I come around to the source and hear, oh yes, that WAS the Bach that I heard, except I couldn’t hear the high notes. Funny Bach!

A woman at my work some twenty years ago had a sneeze that set off the whole set of Brahms Variations on a Theme by Haydn! I can hear it now, that four note achoo! And all the orchestration around it. It’s in my brain.

We carry music whether we call it music or not. An odd thump in the night will waken us, while we slumber away with familiar heater noises and someone running water or walking on the squeaky board. House music. An empty house , to a lone listener, ghostly-quiet.

And even quiet has its music. If you listen you can hear breathing, and feel your heart beat. Chewing has its noise. I hear the pitter-patter of my own typing.

Spring shuts off the forced air heat. Ahh. It is heavenly! The fridge then purrs. Then you open the windows and voila! There is the noise you call surf, but which is really traffic going down Interstate 90 about a mile away. And trees. And creatures. And a neighbor cough.

It’s music! Indeterminacy, John Cage calls it. It’s quite beautiful when it’s your own personal concert. Even the clamor of too-much-noise-around-here is stunningly missed when suddenly quiet. I wish I could again hear my grandson learning scales on his trumpet. The lame notes and stray bleeps.

I bought my first Guitar, now a valuable antique that still amazes, at about fifteen from a pawn shop in South Philadelphia. It went everywhere with me. Now my grandson has it because he still has the fingers strong enough to play it. But there is always a moment when I find a guitar somewhere, like in my littlest grandson’s play room, and I have to pick it up and make my music. And it’s catching! Music is joy and expression, however lilting or jarring. It restores my soul.

My youngest grandson wanting to play the guitar

Susan G Holland ©2017

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.