Thursday, September 20, 2012

My Musical History, by Sarah

Being that I currently live in the woods and talk to animals more than people, and at one time really enjoyed writing and imagined it was something that my future self would do a lot of, what better time to put my ramblings and memories into some sort of form than now? Or try to, anyway. Since in the past year I've felt like I've become some sort of loser of the highest degree, I've been keeping myself somewhat entertained at times by traveling back in time through my memories. Just to be really clear on where this is all coming from; Kelley (my husband) and I moved back to Oregon a little over a year ago from Los Angeles. In LA I had family, friends, a job, in short, something of a normal life. Here in Oregon we live on 50 acres in the country. Any friends I might have live in Portland, a 30-45 minute or longer drive, I have no family around and don't see Kelley's family much, I don't have a job to go to (not for lack of trying), and I spend most days at the house playing fetch with the dog, rubbing the cat's belly, staring into space, burning incense, watching Netflix, getting frustrated, drinking coffee, you get the idea. Occasionally I will leave the house. In some ways I dig it, in other ways I'm just waiting to move on in one way or the other. I didn't particularly want to move back to Oregon but it happened, but that's another story. Anyway, this band, or musical project, Space Waves, is one of the only things I have going on right now. I have been thinking lately about music and the role its played in my life and the only way to really delve into it is to write, I have realized that so that is what I am doing. Because writing is like a linear unfolding of thoughts, memories and emotions and the only way to get anywhere with it is to just keep unfurling. So thinking back to when I was young, I seem to have some positive associations with music and my family. Like I remember hearing, or noticing that I was hearing, the Beatles for the first time when I was probably 6 years old in my parents' car. My mom and dad were in the car and we were driving back home from somewhere and were about to turn into our driveway and I really liked the song on the radio, so I asked who it was and my parents told me it was the Beatles. I remember we had this little Casio keyboard that had orange drum machine pads on it and at that age I really liked to play around with it and make drumbeats with it. My sister is three years older than me and she played, hm was it flute or violin, I can't remember. Well I remember when I was in second grade I started music lessons at my elementary school and I played violin for two days but didn't like it, so then switched to flute. The violin teacher was, to my perception, a grumpy old man, but the flute teacher was a nice lady. So I remember learning how to read music and all that jazz. I was in the all-district orchestra in either third or fourth grade, or maybe both, I can't remember. Anyway, this is actually kind of difficult for me to write out because I have had a lot of traumas/bad experiences related to music too. I had bad stage fright/performance anxiety and I was always terrified of playing by myself in class, and dreaded any moment when I would have to do so. At concerts I would get so nervous...but I would also be jealous of the other kids who seemed to have so much talent and seemed to really enjoy showing off their playing. I was really jealous of the first chair flautist in high school because she seemed so cool and collected. I don't know if I could have gotten further than I have with music if I didn't have these feelings. It is easy for me to think I just didn't stand out enough. All throughout high school I played in a steel drum group that was an extra-curricular activity. That was probably the best thing about high school for me. I was never in the 'really good' steel drum group, but being in that group with my friends was one of the things that I enjoyed about that time in my life. It also helped me realize how much easier it is for me to learn music by ear. While I know how to read music I never really enjoyed reading it and felt like it distracted from the playing itself, which is why I am really anti-music theory now, in a way. I would just rather feel it and go with my intuition, even if I make mistakes, it is just easier for me to approach it that way. In some ways that is why I like playing bass guitar, because it can be simple. After playing the melody parts of songs for so long (I played lead or tenor steel drum, which carries the melody, and flute does too obviously) I can really enjoy/appreciate the foundation of the song that the lower frequencies carry. In the steel drum group for awhile I played double seconds, which do a lot of strumming, kind of the equivalent of rhythm guitar in a rock band, but they also back up the melody at times. I enjoyed that too but later was switched to lead.
I find it pretty much impossible to be objective about musical talent because so much is in the eye or ears of the beholder. Just because someone is technically proficient doesn't mean I will enjoy their playing necessarily. But that is something that is kind of beautiful about musical expression in the first place. Yeah there might be millions of musicians on the planet but everyone has the right to express themselves that way if they choose, and if you don't like it well there's another thousand to pick. It's just there to be enjoyed and if you don't enjoy it then move on.
Looking back now, I wonder if it would have been better for me to have been held back a year in school. I did fine with the schoolwork itself, but I have a late August birthday so was a year younger than some of the kids in my class, and probably the youngest in my class, minus anyone who had skipped grades. I was also one of the smallest, especially in elementary school and middle school. Not so much high school though. But if I had been held back I wouldn't have the same friends I have now.
Continuing with the musical theme...I never had a lot of confidence in myself as a musician but I did enjoy it a lot. I took AP Music Theory in high school when I was a junior of 16 years. That class and Art History were some of my favorites. I somehow got a 4 on the AP, even though in my opinion I suck at sight-singing/sight-reading. Oh hey, I forgot to mention that when I was like 8 or 9, we had this awesome accordian that I loved to play, and then one day my dad sold it at a garage sale and I was so bummed. Because he didn't even know I liked to play it. Man that bummed me out! It was such a weird, squeaky, heavy dusty smelly instrument and I loved it. It had weird buttons for chords. It was a bluish greenish color and it lived in my closet. Obviously I should get an accordian to replace my lost childhood one. Hm what else. I remember having a couple of really cheap acoustic guitars in high school and I would try to play them and get endlessly frustrated. It's funny that I picked up bass guitar but my friend wanted me to play it in the band we started in my 20s and he was a good teacher. But at the time playing a stringed instrument was just too much of a stretch for me in terms of the different approach to music it brings.
So in college I had no idea what I wanted to study or do with myself. But I did end up getting involved in the radio station and that was probably the best part of college for me. I love to DJ and I was Music Director for a year and I loved getting all the music in the mail and listening to it. And from there I started interning at a record label in LA, and that was great. At the time I really wanted to make a career of it, and become a music supervisor for films or TV or work in music publishing. I tried but nothing worked out. I remember in high school at one time I wanted to be a foley artist, those people in charge of sound effects, like shoes walking on a floor or the splat of someone being punched, or something. LA Times had a commercial about it that would show before movies in the theater.
Well after college was over I was working at this record label I had been interning at, and I thought to ask one of the other interns if he wanted to start a band. At that time I hadn't played any musical instruments in a few years. I wasn't playing anything in college. I remember being really nervous about asking him, haha. But he was excited about the idea. I wanted to play steel drum in it and he played acoustic guitar, and then like I mentioned before he got me playing bass guitar. We got two of our friends to join the band too. That was a lot of fun and I still really love those songs that we played. I think that lasted maybe a year or two, and then I moved to San Francisco and didn't really play much, though I brought my bass and practice amp with me. And it wasn't until I moved to Portland in 2008 that I started playing music again, and that was because Kelley got me to because he played his guitar all the time. In some ways he has really brought me out of my shell, but in other ways I am really terrified to leave my shell so it hasn't all been good. Ha. I was always terrified of singing in front of people, but he somehow got me to start singing, just by being encouraging. I didn't mean to start writing songs but it just started happening, I guess after jamming with Kelley for awhile it unlocked some sort of creative doorway into that sort of songwriting realm. While I love our music it has been a battle to keep it going. In some ways it is great, it is wonderful, in other ways it is endlessly frustrating and feels totally pointless, and a waste of time and money. I don't know how much of my frustration has to do with my own feelings of inadequacy and insecurities. I am trying, and have been trying, to work through a lot of my issues. What keeps me going is the small, dim hope that maybe if we keep at it, maybe someday something really great will come of it all, and maybe we will be able to tour regularly, and be a regularly functioning band. I don't know what it will take to get there but I'm willing to keep trying. I know that personally I have come a long way. I don't get nearly as nervous as I used to about 'performing.' I just think of it as something that I do. In high school I was in the marching band in order to get PE credits, and Friday nights we'd play the football games. Normally I doubt I would have gone to them, but playing music has been one thing that has forced me to be more social than I otherwise probably would be. Football is/was a huge deal at my school so there were thousands of people at the games. Playing rehearsed music with a hundred other kids in front of thousands of people was not nerve-racking to me. There was something enjoyable about it, and it did get me out, much like now, playing a Space Waves show is one of the only things that gets me out. Not that we play out much at this point. I always find myself thinking, if only I were _____. If only I were more outgoing, more passionate, more extroverted, happier. But then I wouldn't be me. And if I feel hardly anyone cares about our music, oh well. That all of the time, energy and money that we've put into it is all for nothing. Oh well. That we don't have the right 'connections.' Oh well. At least I have accessed a creative part of myself that I wasn't ever sure I would access this much. It's not like I expect great things but in some ways I feel, just from an objective viewpoint, that I have lacked in support and encouragement. But these feelings are probably normal, or maybe it is just my own inner demons going at it again. Maybe I prevent myself from receiving it, because it is easier for me to just stay in my wallowing, self-pitying, woe is me ways. It is hard for me to believe that I am worthy of anything really good, or that I am in any way special. Maybe I am due for a big psychic makeover. I am just me. I exist...for now. Unsurprisingly my thoughts lately have been rather morbid/depressed. I'm not really ashamed of that, though I know our society frowns upon it generally. I am considered a downer, a negative person, a creep, a sucker of positive energy, stay away demon. Well that is not really me. Maybe a part of me. Besides I never really trust people who are happy all the time. I mean, I get it, but come on. Life is life, it is work, it is hard. It can be joyous too. I get wanting to only experience positive things, and to be joyous all the time and to try to keep the mood up. But I also think it is important to explore other moods. They are not inherently bad. Death is not inherently bad.
The first time I had suicidal thoughts, in my 20s, I freaked out. I was living alone at the time, my first time doing so, and was scared enough that I started making plans to move (I moved to San Francisco from there). Lately I have been having them again, even more so. I don't think I would ever actually go through with it, but I do understand where they are coming from. And it does seem hard to get back to the place where I don't have them so much. But I am okay with it, and I am okay with exploring these thoughts. I think it can be good in a way, or important maybe, to think about it. If your life ended now, would you be okay with that? I think I would be. I'm not saying I want it to, I'm just saying I think I'd be okay with it. What color liner would I want for my coffin? I'm thinking a rainbow satin one.
Okay, maybe I'm getting a little carried away now. It's okay, I'll just go back to watching Charmed and trying to not feel like I suck at life. Ha.

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