Posts Tagged ‘music’

When I was in between my freshman and sophomore years of college, I was home during the summer and needing a job. Of course I was picky and coffee houses didn’t exist back then and the coveted jobs at the local record store were few and far between. A position came open as a “worker” at a day treatment program for adults dual diagnosed with mental illness and cognitive disabilities — seemed like an interesting job for a 19-year-old and luckily my mother was the director of the program… so, I had my job.

The clients there were endearing and mind-blowing and exhilarating — I remember their faces and most of their names. One of the clients, a man we’ll call “Scott”, seemed so interesting to me. He played football in his youth and still had the physique — 6’2″, broad shoulders, and handsome. He never spoke — never. He never smiled, he never frowned, he never changed his facial expression… always a flat affect. He was always by himself. He never joined the group — always alone. I found out that he had almost killed his 11-year-old cousin. His illness took over one night and he choked the boy — he was found to be mentally ill and placed in the day treatment program. To be honest, I was scared of him. I kept a safe distance from him, I always made sure I knew where he was, I never pushed him to participate in any of the groups.

I play the piano — a little anyway. We had a beautiful piano in my house when I was growing up. Our house was always filled with music — my brother is a drummer, my older sisters were in chorus, I played the trumpet and the guitar and we all played the piano. My mother was a musician — a vocalist. She had aspirations of being an opera singer. There was never a day that went by in my house that my mother didn’t sit down and start playing the piano and singing. We weren’t an average family. Our parents raised us to be independent and self-reliant and we weren’t exactly Ozzie and Harriet. But, it was very normal for us all to gather around the piano and start singing along — Billy Joel, Barry Manilow, Bette Midler, The Commodores. We always had plenty of songs to choose from — sheet music was everywhere. The piano was often the center of our universe. When we didn’t have words for each other, we could sit down and play a song and inevitably someone would come in and sing along.

There was a piano at the day treatment facility. It never got used and was desperately out of tune. Still, I couldn’t help but sit down and play a song each day as I passed by. No one ever joined in to sing — I was usually ignored. Until one day, I sat down and started playing “Endless Love”. “Scott” came over and sat down next to me. I started singing in my best Lionel Richie voice and hoped my nerves wouldn’t show through as he gazed at the piano and then at me. When I finished, his expression was still the same, he still didn’t talk, he still didn’t smile. And I left him there at the piano.

My summer came to an end and I headed back to college — always thinking about the people from the program and sharing their stories with my friends (my summer job was much cooler than working at the record store). When the next summer came around, I was very eager to reclaim my job at the program and luckily many of the same clients were still there — including “Scott”. The therapists were anxious for me to see everyone and said I would be surprised at a few of the people and their progress. On the first day, “Scott” was the first to greet me. He walked up to me and smiled and said hi. We had a conversation — a real conversation. He walked away to go help some of the other clients — he had become a group leader and was perfect in that role. He eventually made his way to the piano and started playing a song — apparently he knew how to play but had stopped when his mental illness started to control him. A few clients gathered around him and started to sing along with him… and me, I was there too.

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Driving around, you see something that stirs a memory. A song comes on the radio and you remember why it makes you smile or cry. It can evoke memories or feelings that affected you positively (and sometimes negatively — God bless Journey!). I’ve been hearing memories all over town lately… I thought I would share some of them with you and what sparked the synapse to my brain that caused me to think of these things in the first place.

Here you go:

1) “Nightswimming”, by REM comes on the radio station I listen to a lot. I love that song. I listened endlessly to REM in high school and college (all the cool girls did). But, hearing this song doesn’t remind me of those times. It reminds me that I used to play the piano and how I want to learn this song on the piano and play it for my friends one day. It also reminds me of my piano teacher and the time I took my mother’s checkbook to practice writing checks (I was 8 ) and wrote the piano teacher a $200 check (she was really good).

2) “Early In The Morning”, by The Gap Band reminds me of The Pizza Hut. (Now that was a stretch wasn’t it?) It reminds me of high school football games in the small town I grew up in. The Pizza Hut was across the street from the high school and we ended up there every Friday night after a game. This song was inevitably on the jukebox. There really is no better time in a small town than Friday night football games. I remember sitting in the stands with blankets, I remember cheering, I remember it all.

3) “Cuts Like A Knife”, by Bryan Adams reminds me of a water tower in the small town I grew up in. It was on the outskirts of town and we all gathered there every weekend. One night my best friend and I were lying on the hood of a car looking at the stars and a meteor shower began. It was amazing. I’ve never been able to see one since — it was a perfect fluke.

4) “Closer To Fine”, by Indigo Girls, also plays on my radio station frequently.  I can’t help but sing along when ever I hear this song. It reminds me that I re-learned how to play the guitar just so my best friend and I could sing the entire Indigo Girls collection. But, mostly I remember how her guitar was so much nicer than mine. Her’s was a beautiful 12 string guitar that I coveted. Mine, I got in the 4th grade.

5) “The Day The Music Died”, by Don McLean. There was a pub near campus when I was in college. It was perfect. It had an outdoor patio…and it had a jukebox. The best jukebox ever. We all gathered there several times a week and always, at some point during the evening, this song would come on. I had a friend that would sing louder than any of us, she was adorable… we all loved her. This song reminds me of her and how I miss her and how her death was hard on a group of college kids.

These are my songs, they are my memories. I hear these songs and they make me smile as I think about youth and the lack of inhibitions that live in youth. But, I’d like to think that youth and uninhibited behaviors didn’t automatically end when I graduated from college or left my small town. I remember night swimming — do you?

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