The 116th Dream

16 May

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One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain. —Bob Marley

As the end of the academic year is nearing, the natives are restless in their anticipation of freedom. I’m restless too walking the floors of my tiny windowless classroom. I count minutes and graded essays, all the while trying to lose myself in the discussion of students until the bell that signals unlocked doors and … the sun. In the bleary mornings, hot coffee and the promise of acoustic on the airwaves propels me toward the car, their soaring edges framing the brightening sky once I am on the road. On these chilly spring morning commutes, roots and folk harmony send my spirit skyward nearly like a gospel witness. Songs these days seem to deliver messages to me in synchronous drifts. In both the high harmony and in lyric simplicity, the sharp edge of voices challenges the riddles of my soul. Insight then somehow appears like a cool cloth upon this sleep-deprived head of mine before I walk past the locks on my brick cell in English Literature.

Last week, I broke the rules. The road called on a Wednesday and I acquiesced. Usually I never heed the call when classes come so early in the morning. But these days, musical intercession is needed and so upon the camino I went to see Sam Wilson from the Sons of Bill and Vandaveer. As I strolled the downtown mall of Charlottesville, only a banjo busker’s tale paused my post dinner walk toward The Southern Cafe and Music Hall. The place is relatively small, the stage and audience area a dark protected cavern of quiet, almost confessional in mood. Seated in the front row, a local stout in hand, the night and the space curled around me while Sam Wilson began to sing.

This is the quiet music of the soul, I thought.

In listening, memories opened of nights from over a decade ago when local folk musician Brian Hall prompted the yearnings of my heart. In Wilson’s songs, almost instantaneously, the depth of lyric blended effortlessly into the dissonant strings, and the body of the guitar echoed the notes. Voice, physical body, and soul became one in the instrument, a trinity of sound. I thought of the troubadour. the wandering bard… a human song offered to the heavens.

Vandaveer quietly took the stage soon after, their understated stage presence revealing that this music isn’t really about “performance” but a relaying of the simple life of common folk. I began to understand that songs of this genre are about expression and artistic connection to an old body of art. Their newest collection includes traditional ballads which recreate and celebrate the richness of American life, romantic ideals in the truest sense. Mark Heidinger’s guitar and vocals reminded me of the old mountain singers I heard as little girl with a healthy dose of Dylan thrown in. Reminiscent of Patsy Cline, Rose Guerin’s low powerful tones intertwined to prompt some of the strongest inspiration I have felt at a live musical event. The tremendous emotional harmony in the lyrics had me sporadically scribbling away in my little book. Starting the set with Pretty Polly, one of my new favorite songs, cast an energy which never dissipated over the next hour and a half. Song after song became a quiet conversation between audience and artist, a sense of meditative reflection even in the merrier moments. Some of my favorites? Beat, Beat, My Heart; Concerning Past & Future Conquests and the tango-ish Spite.

The idea of the beauty in sorrow echoed in several songs especially in Everything is Spinning.  In the chorus, the dark sorrow of loss cut against the laughing melody. And in the chilling The Murder of the Lawson Family, the dissonance between the sing-a-long quality of the tune and the narrative of murder had me wondering about musical function and form within community.  I was reminded of common folk tunes like Ring Around the Rosy and Weelia Wallia, their sad subjects masked by cheerful repeating verse.

Near the end of the set, my heart was completely captured by the childlike Beverly Cleary’s 115th Dream. I opened my book mid song and wrote —

Art is the highest form of consciousness …an expression of the energy of the spheres. Artists are conduits for the divine. When I die, I want to be as beautiful as a song. I want my passing to be a song to the Universe. How much more beautiful could that be?

The balm of note and verse comforts me. It has begun to accompany my walk like a second voice, a harmony to my own musings. Each morning, I wearily slide into my car and songs carry me to work. Each evening they carry me home. I write to music now seated at one of my new writer’s spots or on my screened back porch in the warm afternoon light. And I wonder how I could have lived without it for all this time. Because there was a long time where I simply couldn’t listen to it without pain, and not during this journey. Before it.

But each walk from my library to the kitchen forces a gaze at my grandmother’s piano, a family heirloom and iconic image from my childhood. She has played naturally, by ear, since she was four years old. It’s amazing to think what she would have done with lessons and the proper training. Her piano it a constant reminder of the connection music can bring. Comfort and home in each note.

grans piano

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