It was 1971, I was about 15 years old and singing the song “Put your Hand in the Hand” by “Ocean” in the back seat of our family car. That particular song had a lot of key changes to it and as I recall, I was making every one of them perfectly. I was used to singing to myself and would sing all the different parts of a song (I was my own back up band!). My brother, Dick, was in the front seat of the car and turned around and said, “Hey, that’s pretty good”. This was a HUGE deal! For him (or anyone for that fact), to divvy out a compliment like this to ME was extraordinary. Compliments were not just handed out like that to me…. not EVER. My mother looked at him and snapped, “Oh for heavens sake, Dick, don’t encourage her!”. I just kept singing, like I didn’t hear her.
Listen to Ocean’s “Put Your Hand In The Hand” Now…01 Put Your Hand In the Hand
My other brother, Bill played the trombone in the South High School Marching band. For some reason that seemed to be something my Mother enjoyed and I liked falling asleep to Trombone music – that’s when Bill did all of his practicing and practicing was important if you wanted to make “first chair”. “First Chair” is where you sit when you’re the best. I knew that because my Mom and Bill talked about that a lot. She was supportive about him moving up to “First Chair” in the Band/Orchestra and encouraged him.
My parents were older when my mother discovered she was pregnant again. Oops! They had settled into a family of four after a tragedy killed their first daughter. Grief wouldn’t let her accept another girl. I didn’t understand this of course. Still don’t sometimes, I just thought it was me for years (about 55 actually). My brothers told me regularly they didn’t want a sister, they wanted a dog. I became the reason everything good and fun came to a halt.
So, after my mom shushed me and told my oldest brother not to encourage me, I decided to try out for this Varsity Choir class at my High School. Yeah, I know you don’t have to be a licensed therapist to figure this one out. This was me being a rebel.
Freshman were not typically in this class, you had to try out for it and “trying out” meant I had to actually sing in front of the music teacher! Ouch! Not something I was comfortable with. I was painfully shy in high school. Staying under the radar was my skill set. Both at home and at school. This wasn’t a group I belonged in, but clearly I was just mad enough at my mother to summon the courage to try to wedge my way into this class. For my “tryout”, I chose to sing “Lemon Tree” by Trini Lopez, I didn’t even know all the words….I liked the melody enough and thought that would carry me. Honest to god, I don’t know how I passed, but I got in.
Listen to Trini Lopez’s “Lemon Tree Now… 07 Lemon Tree
Now here I am in the Varsity Choir, an invisible student! I wasn’t part of any group within the class and I was just too shy to ever buddy up to anybody within the class, so I was pretty much always sitting alone in my chair not chatting with anybody. I’d sit patiently and wait in between songs to see what we were singing. Nobody knew me.
Nobody knew my likes and dislikes. A skill only kids like me were really good at. You couldn’t voice these at home or all hell would break lose. At home if I didn’t like something I was told I was wrong; if I liked something, I was told not to get used to it.
One of the songs we did in this class was Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”. I didn’t just love this song, I LOVED singing this song.
“Tears and fears and feeling proud, to say “I love you” right out loud
dreams and schemes and circus crowds, I’ve looked at life that way”
This fascinated me! It was the part about saying “I love you”… RIGHT OUT LOUD! What was that like? That’s got to be the most amazing feeling in the world! Just like the song says…
“Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels, the dizzy dancing way you feel
as every fairy tale comes real, I’ve looked at love that way”
I’ve never said these words before and I’ve never heard these words before. That’s not the kind of thing you said OR heard anybody say in my house. I’m 15 years old and nobody has ever told me they love me.
Every time we sang “Both Sides Now” it always made me think a lot about love, and how it must be SPECTACULAR! It was, after all 1971, talk of love was everywhere. The curiosity was killing me! It seemed like everybody else knew what love was like, everyone except me. My mother told me I’d have a difficult time finding anybody to love me, so I wasn’t sure if I would ever hear it.
Listen to Judy Collin’s version of “Both Sides Now”… 05 Both Sides Now 1
Right after Christmas that year, I got sick and missed a couple of weeks of school. When I finally got back to the Choir room, I quietly found my chair and waited for class to begin, just as I always did. The choir director, fixed his eyes on mine, and I could tell he noticed I was in class. Without saying a word, he turned on his heels and grabbed some sheet music from his desk on the other side of the room. The first song we sang in class was kind of a big deal and everyone always wanted their favorite. Everybody in class stopped chatting and we all settled in and waited to see what the first number was going to be while he took his customary place behind the piano. The Director said he had noticed a student was back with us after an absence that had been much too long due to an illness. Who did I have this in common with? He went so far as to mention my Name, right out loud! I wasn’t accustomed to this kind of attention! He said the class had agreed this would be the first song we would sing upon my return.
“Bows and Flows of angel hair, and ice cream castles in the air
and feather canyons everywhere,I’ve looked at clouds that way”
Oh my God! I can’t believe anyone knew this was my favorite song! I couldn’t even believe anyone knew I was even gone for two weeks! I couldn’t believe anyone even noticed I was even back. This was the first time EVER I wasn’t invisible. I was so absolutely red in the face, and I felt hot all over. Now I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was self conscious about every little move I made after that. After we finished singing “Both Sides Now” the entire class said “Welcome Back, Barb!” “We Love You!”
That was the first time I had ever heard “I Love you”. I’ll never forget it. It certainly didn’t make me feel dreams and schemes and circus crowds or even Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels, but it was pretty awesome.
Since then music has always been my coping mechanism. I’ve kept music close to me in all the variety of evolving forms; vinyl (that was cumbersome, especially the 45’s). I didn’t have a record player or records of my own so I had to rely on my older brothers’ collection (and only when they were gone). Songs like “Will you Still Love Me Tomorrow” by The Shirelles and “Johnny Angel” by Shelly Fabares could keep me singing in the basement for hours. I still know the words to most of those old songs.
Listen to The Shirelles “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” now: THE SHIRELLES-WILL U STILL LOVE ME TOMORROW
Listen to Shelly Fabares “Johnny Anegel” now: Shelley Fabares_Johnny Angel_Stereo 1962
When things got a bit more portable with headphones, ah headphones, I could walk away from everyone. The music could fill my head leaving absolutely no room for anything else, PERFECT! Portable devices were different than just listening to music on record players (when it comes to music therapy). Free standing music let in the chaos around me whereas the “walkman” allowed “me” to be portable. Oh the power! It took some work getting to a favorite song, but it was worth it. And now, the iPod! All the songs instantly available to fill my head and heart, removing any unwanted emotion. Music was my therapist.
And now, back to that song “Both Sides Now”, the one that started me on a journey of self healing. That song has been with me in every form. From the vinyl 45 and the cardboard record player to the digital version that exists in my cloud and resides on every device I own. Every time it randomly comes up on my iPod as I walk with my dog along the lake in the sunshine, I am reminded I am not the invisible little girl I thought I was.
Especially now, since the death of my mother, whenever I hear the familiar music begin on my iPod I immediately smile, thinking of the choir room so many years ago and how many people I have loved in my life and how they have loved me back (she said it would be hard, and it wasn’t!). The one person in my life that couldn’t love me is gone and I am grateful for her passing. It means freedom for both of us. She was probably just as tormented not being able to connect with a daughter as I was not having a mother.
I was the lucky one. Beginning with that choir room, the universe always seemed to send me enough “supplemental” interventions to make sure I had enough love in my life. I sometimes just didn’t see it until I had my “hindsight” glasses on. These are the people that offered me the things I needed in life to thrive and grow.
“Oh but now old friends are acting strange, they shake their heads, they say I’ve changed. Well something’s lost but something’s gained in living every day”
I’m a different person today than that shy girl trying out for that Varsity Choir class. People that know me now would be shocked to know some of the issues I’ve faced (Okay, sometimes still facing them). At the party I threw for my mother’s 88th Birthday, I invited my brothers even through we don’t keep in touch (or speak). As you might expect, we siblings didn’t have much to say to each other, they still both agreed they wanted a damn dog instead of a sister. I told them both since it was probably the last time we would see each other I would be making a donation to the local Humane Society in their name, and it was time they each got a dog.
I couldn’t wait to get to my iPod! The songs are carefully crafted for my walks and when put on random, I feel like it’s the universe sending me a signal that everything is going to be okay. The songs just always seems to make sense in the order they come down.
Yes, I do have a rather weird collection of music, but as you can imagine, it works.
“Who can turn the world on with her smile? Who can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile? Well it’s you girl, and you should know it”
With each glance and every little movement you show it, love is all around, no need to waste it, You can have a town, why don’t you take it, You’re gonna make it after all, You’re gonna make it after all” (Mary Tyler Moore show)
Listen to the Theme Music from Mary Tyler Moore’s TV Show now… 02 The Mary Tyler Moore Show Theme (Love Is All Around)
I’m gonna make it after all. At least that’s what I tell myself….