At the library last night, I passed by a table with a closed flute case resting on top of a stack of school books. The owner of this flute had wandered off to find books in the young adult section. I had a Proustian moment when I saw that lonely flute case there. I half expected an 11 year old in a plaid Catholic school uniform to saunter slowly up to the table with oversize glasses and awkward baby fat, a bewildered expression on her face. In other words, I expected me, at 11, to walk right out and bust right into my choppily played flute solo from Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.
I started to spiral down in that way that involuntary memory has: suddenly making you physically stop what you are doing to run your hands slowly along the inside of things you used to do. (Bored brains are especially susceptible to this). Music was a huge part of my adolescence. I used to play a musical instrument on a daily basis. I remember enjoying it and being relatively "good" at it. Memory is tricksy so I use the word "relatively good" with extreme caution and a pillar of salt. Playing the flute was never something I found particularly difficult to do and no one ever had to remind me to practice. I truly enjoyed it from the second I started it. I played it in fifth grade and all the way through high school and pretty much preferred it to most other activities, apart from reading. In grammar school my teacher tried to get me to also learn the oboe and the clarinet, neither of which I enjoyed because of the wooden reeds. I have the same reaction to touching that thin, splintery material with my lips as I do when I touch peach rinds: freak out. Something about the texture sets off unpleasantness in my brain. I do regret that I couldn't get past it and learn the oboe, since it is one of my favorite instruments.
I was a band geek I guess and it was one of my favorite classes, though I didn't really hang out with anyone from band if I didn't already know them from another class. I was also in my school choir and participated in all the musicals, even scored a lead in one. There are a few videos of the high school me singing various solos. I had way more control over my voice back then than I do now. It is kind of bizarre. I've never been a strong singer but hearing myself from back then, I think if I had tried even just a little, I could have gotten better. Or maybe not. Who knows?
I think I hung out more with the musical theater geeks than the band, though there was an overt, overly sexual energy in the musical theater crew that I didn't really understand. I didn't really even recognize that that is what it was; I was slow on the uptake with that one. (I would later learn through doing musicals during summer breaks with a local theater group that musical theater people have a lot of sex with each other. And if not, they pretty much exclusively talk about it all the time. Then again, maybe that's just teenagers.) By the time I got to college, I had become a full fledged introvert and I much preferred poetry to singing solos in front of people. And my college had a huge performing arts school with amazingly talented people. Even my dorm room had non theater and non music majors that were way better than I was at everything music related; I was intimidated. Simultaneously, I got more into writing and focused a lot of my creative energy on that. But please don't take what I wrote during that time period (aside from a few pretty good love poems) as evidence of that creative energy. I often cringe at the memory. I digress.
I can still read music though it is in the exact same manner and at the same pace at which I read Spanish. I've got to translate it in my head first before it actually makes sense and my comprehension is more in context and likely riddled with errors. In college I took a lot of music theory classes and I did ok but I was on the verge of graduating and didn't really care that much so I'm not even really sure I absorbed any of that info. Music theory didn't really interest me much. I was always more interested in music history. I still have some "mix tapes" from my History of Western Music class. That class introduced to me to Monteverdi, Purcell, Brahms and Mozart's Don Giovanni among many, many other things.
In recent years I haven't really played much music, unless you count singing at the top of my lungs in the shower and in my car. I bought a ukulele and learned two chords. I've thought about getting my flute, which I still own and keep in its original blue velvet interiored case, tuned up and repaired (it is missing a few pads) but then what? Would I sit in my living room, playing arpeggios? Would I learn that killer flute solo from the Beach Boys' awesomely trippy "Feel Flows"? Likely that flute would sit in a pile next to my uke and my keyboard, gathering dust.
I took a trip to Albany over the weekend and visited my friends who are musicians. I listened to a few of their songs and sang along to some covers like we used to in high school. I realized that I missed that. I completely understand how people form communities around music. I don't know if I ever fully appreciated it in high school or college. It remains one of those if I had to do it all over again things.
Life is lousy with those.