Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Music Therapy

I am a musician.
This will never change.
Watch me convert to Hinduism, dye my hair brown, start writing with my right hand, become a pro athlete, and learn to like seafood and I would still be a musician. Although I'm capable on three instruments, I'm a singer-songwriter at heart. I have more rules, traditions and superstitions about my songwriting process than you find in most religions.

Before I came to Ghana, a lot of people asked me what my biggest fear about moving to Africa was. I didn't admit it to most of them, but it was that I would forget my music. I don't have the technical savvy to write down most of my compositions- there are amateur recordings of some of them, but otherwise they only exist in my head- and I wouldn't be exaggerating if I said I was terrified I was going to forget how to play them after nine months' hibernation. The few people I did confide this fear to assured me not to underestimate muscle memory, it would all come back in time, etc etc. Kind words, but they did little to comfort me. My songs are an intensely personal part of me. In the weeks before I left, the thought of possibly losing them literally kept me up some nights.
I had the chance to play a gorgeous baby grand in the lobby of one of the hotels we stayed at in Cairo, but that only made matters worse. Between my nerves and my informal audience, I stumbled over my songs even more that I had anticipated I would. It's hard to describe how deeply that upset me. (My poor big brother had to deal with my crying so many times in the five weeks he was here, but he always handled it like a champ.)

Even after six months away from home, my music continues to be by far the biggest sacrifice I have made to come to Ghana. I've continued to write lyrics, but without the music it's not the same. Sometimes I miss my piano so much I physically ache for it.
So when I was standing around with some of the other teachers today after school and one of them casually mentioned that the orphanage had acquired a new (aka functional) organ (aka keyboard) that was enough to send me sprinting across the compound bellowing "ESTHER, WHERE IS IT!?!?"
It was like being reunited with an old friend. It was like being reunited with me, really.
For as long as I sat there, I could pull the beautiful familiarity of my words and melodies around me like the world's best security blanket. It filled up that emptiness in my chest I've lived with so long I wish I could say I've become accustomed to it.
And the longer my fingers moved over the keys, the more I remembered. Chord by chord, the pieces of "Hummingbird" came together a little better with each repetition. As I played through "Orion's Love Song" I thought, 'I can't remember the middle section even vaguely; what am I gonna do?' ...And then I reached the end of the part I could consciously remember and somehow I just didn't stop. As the music reappeared from some hidden part of me, I was overwhelmed with relief and above all gratitude. 
Muscle memory might just be the best idea God ever had.
I am a musician.
This will never change.

1 comment:

  1. We should have known you'd be a musician when you were barely able to walk, but used the kitchen baster as a "boot" (flute)!! :) Our house has only had artificial music since you left.