Thursday, 8 March 2018

I thought I knew about music until...

My next few posts are random (seemingly) yet do tie in with the Lusher life hypothesis.

Kindly indulge my story telling as it's a sure way to heal from the inside out.

We were the family who had music on constantly from before I was born.  Dad would sing non stop. My images of him at the washing up bowl are precious.  Knowing every line and every word, shaking his head in  laughter as he realised he didn't have the same range as Karen Carpenter.
My brother Steve also had music running through his blood in the shape of notes rather than the usual doughnut shaped red blood cells.  His funeral saw a rather controversial mix for the church.  Gary Glitter, "DO you wanna be in my gang." Then "Bohemian Rhapsody" (needs no introduction as to who's masterpiece that was) for the procession out of the church.  The service gave us a bond with both the Rev and the church itself and when I had my twins the following year we all chose a much more traditional "Sing Hosanna" for our Christening.  I say 'ours' as yes it was the three of us. My first time. I waited for them.  A special day indeed - I cried tears of joy at how blessed I was.
The surgery I had 8 weeks before had seen 'them' trying to fix an issue as I spent most of my pregnancy profoundly Deaf.  All of labour and most of beyond all I could hear were faint muffles and the odd 's' and quickly learned to lip read. I began to wonder how I would enjoy music again and researched listening through vibrations. The doctors were all pretty sure my hearing issues were caused by infection and the scans that followed on my head revealed Mastioditis.  An infection within the mastoid bone behind the ear. In no uncertain terms I was informed if this wasn't treated I would die within ten years.  The infection would spread through the skull and into the brain, causing meningitis or brain abccess.   
My ear drum was non existent in the right ear as the infection had destroyed it.  The ear drum in the left ear was retracted and therefore not vibrating correctly.  These were two things they could not correct.  Yet the life saving surgery when the twins were just 5 months old was pretty miraculous.  They removed a rather large part of the skull bone as well as a hearing bone and attempted to build me a new ear drum.  After recovery,  which seemed to take forever,  my hearing test revealed I now had 30% hearing in my right ear and 70% in my left.  Not always easy in the wrong circumstances; but I'd take those results happily. 

Music.  Always on.  Never un-listened to.  Yet often just ringing away in the background, unannounced.  Helping with the rhythm of the heart beat.  As it does. 

I grew up. Music; Always on. Thankfully in a wonderful setting of being an Operations Manager for wonderful events all over the country and seeing so much live music.  
One of my venues saw an unbreakable bond with Steve and Lulu.  Steve was a musical genius.  I loved him.  He looked like a better-looking version of my brother and I could never get enough of spending time with him.  Lulu was the level headed one of the outfit and seemingly tough yet big hearted.  She was one of the few who could push me and push me and push some more and not make me cry.  Push with what? Well, these guys ran a school of performing arts at one of our venues which was a stunning mix of members bars, restaurants and the hall with fully functioning (although velvet green) curtains in front of the stage.   I was very young and the work pressures were huge.  Multi site manager at 22.  Crazy.  So Steve and Lulu filled my life in remarkable ways for which I remain eternally thankful.  A few hours a week Steve would teach me to play keyboard. Finally.  A dream I had begged my parents for as a child. I was always told 'yes' - but no piano lessons ever manifested.  My parents bought me an orange  Bontempi keyboard and I taught myself how to read a little music (in the days before Youtube) and stuck stickers with F A C E on the corresponding keys and attempted to teach myself some melodies.  I would sit for hours crossed legged on my bedroom floor with my keyboard.  Other than that, I was a bored child.  The Blue Danube became my favourite. Although the top octave was missing on the keys and that was always an ear bleeding moment to miss the essential note.
Steve and I struggled to unlearn bad habits.  Singing was definitely always the better lesson.  Those couple of hours each week allowed me to leave my work at the swinging doors as I put Martin the head chef in charge.  He wouldn't disturb unless it was totally necessary.  

Steve and Lulu had a beautiful baby girl, CJ.  She loved me and I loved her.  My maternal needs were met as I would pick her up and carry her around far more than necessary.  She was to sing "Mary Mary quite contrary" at the next show.  Carrying a small watering can while 'watering' flowers on the stage. Ahh my heart melted.  Lulu and Steve both suggested I sing at the show.  I thought instantly Nope.  

I did sing in the show. Of course.  

I remember the black dress with small white polka dots.  I remember how super slim I was.  I remember the nerves.  Which was the only time ever I used to get nervous. So, very nervously confident, I took the mic and sang a duet with a friend, "I know him so well." Then a stunning occasion I will never forget as I stood beside Steve at the piano - just the piano - and enjoyed "I honestly love you" which was soft and heart breaking.   Finishing off with something crazy, upbeat and unique - Steve arranged the music and I wrote the lyrics! Mad times I will never forget.  
Lulu came in to rehearsals and walked backwards calling out, 
"Louder." another step back, 
"More breath," another step, 
"Can't quite hear you," another step, 
"You need to fill the back of this hall." 
I grinned. She couldn't go any further.  The back wall was behind her.  Haha, what a lovely and tough way to get my perimeters stretched.  I love her still now.  
My highlight of that show was an amazing young teenager singing a haunting version of Bridge over Troubled Water - I wonder if Lulu remembers.  Goosebumps and welled eyes.

Life got busy, I moved on from that venue and continued to enjoy music everywhere but never giving it the same attention as this time.  I tried to use it to bond with Dad at times.  Christmas eve would see him glancing past mum at church (she always sat between us) as he tried to reach the top note on "hark the herald angels sing" and laughing at himself.  Rolling his eyes as I managed it, albeit often with a winter croak. 
Spain, I forget the year, and it rained.  Dad, as  a sun worshipper had the right old miseries.  Didn't we know it. So, my thinking head saw a plan.  Not quite the scale of events I was used to at work but I felt we would get him in a great mood with some karaoke and a few drinks. So I researched when this was to be and took my iPod into the gym to begin that 'singing in your head' practice.  
"Don't rain on my parade." It was going to be impressive.  Dad would be impressed.  He might just love me on this day.

Giggling, we all felt the effects of a couple of drinks with dinner and I submitted Dads song choice.  He nailed it in his usual 'just singing along to the radio' kind of way. I praised him massively with my big heart as I always would.
Begging my good ear not to fail me now as I took to the stage and began listening to the backing track filling the room with orchestral gusto, I hit the first note bang on, always a good thing.
The version I had listened to over and over was different in the mid section and I totally lost my timing.  Ouch.  Never mind, didn't matter, I carried on and the climax at the end was, I was sure, my time to shine.  Yep.  Got that too.  Leaving the stage faster than the applause stopped, I grinned as I sat back down.
"What happened there?" Dad simply criticised.  I was crushed. 

So fast forward to my first year at university at London Met.  There was hearsay that I might be transferring for the next 3 years to a uni closer to home and I began to find every nook and cranny on their website to see what this uni was all about.
There was  a choir.
No need for auditions.
Maybe they would be, like, musical theatre type - which was an indulgence for me while driving alone in the car! Maybe.

"I'm going to join the choir Dad." And he was supportive and encouraging.
Determined to enjoy the Christmas concert, I found out more and decided to go.  Yet,  for reasons which the detail escapes me now, I got overly busy with work and university coursework that I didn't go.
"I'll get us tickets and we can go to the Christmas Concert." I announced to Mum and Dad.  We did.  It was special.  Taking to our seats, with mum between Dad and I as usual, we began to hear the first bars of music.  And then,   it was time for the choir to begin.


They were incredible. More than incredible.

I leaned back around mums head and looked at Dad.  We both were grinning as I shook my head in disbelief.  We both knew I couldn't sing like that or be a part of the choir.  Driving home we discussed how I had possibly bitten off more than I could chew but I would still try anyway and the following concert mum and dad would be coming to see me in the 'non-auditioning' (thank goodness) choir. 

Three weeks later Dad suddenly died.

What followed next was more than a difficult time.  
He died without ever saying I love you.  While I was able to tell him that while I watched him slipping away in a coma in ICU,  I never heard those words.  

Everything fell on my shoulders.  Helping Mum,  arranging the funeral (that was an amazing funeral thanks to my event planning experience and it was also a fantastic way of coping), sorting everything financial out.  I actually googled "What to do when someone dies." It's crazy how specific all the paperwork is.

Trying to remain at University was a challenge.
Going to choir was going to be impossible. 

Shortly after, Mum suffered a massive heart attack which saw her in ICU for a week and in hospital for months.  She wanted me there day and night.  Laptop at the bedside I kept on studying, determined with the bit in my teeth to not give up.  My personal tutor was zero help - less said about that the better.
The surgeons operating on Mum noticed something we had always just put down to her being a bit daft.  Sounding disrespectful but this was something mum was famous for and people loved her for.  The same phrases over and over and laughing at things that really weren't funny. "Ohh your mum is lovely." People would say.  Without the full time irritation of dealing with the inappropriateness of her manner. 
Fast forward to a dementia diagnosis.  Mum has alzheimers and vascular dementia.  This as well as being left with type 2 heart block, mum can't live alone and has moved in with me and the twins.  Taking a lot of time and effort from all 3 of us but obviously we wouldn't have her anywhere else.

Choir wasn't happening.  

Until my final term approached in January.  Coupled with a mini meltdown of putting everyone else first.  The old phrase of 'put on your own oxygen mask before helping others' began to come clear in my eyes as I was taken ill.
"What are WE all going to do if you end up in hospital?" Mum questioned which highlighted a million emotions for me.  So it was decided.  Mondays would be my night when someone else would take care of mum and I would goto choir as well as dance on the way home.

So, today sees me over the joy and worry of holding a Mozart score - nothing like those days of music with Steve and Lulu - and while I began as part of the choir very hard on myself and a little disappointed in the lack of show tunes, speedily I have learned to love it.  Messaging a now grown up CJ:

Me:I need your genius, can you help me?
CJ:Sure what do you need?
Me:Everything! Everything Mozart.
CJ: That's pretty heavy for a new choir
Me: It's just me who's new, not the choir!

CJ began to list what is a rest, how to know when to breathe (still not mastered that one despite the strongest lungs in the world when underwater swimming!) and a host of other amazingly 'change the game' tips.
Does it matter than I'm going to sing less than perfectly?  No.  I'll get parts wrong.  I'll keep quiet at times.  Music is feeding my soul once again and I have met some totally incredible people, reigniting my passion for life.  And faith in humans. A new friend who is performing solo actually had me moved to tears at rehearsal recently and I realised I actually can barely sing.  Yet my journey will continue as I appreciate what I can do, hear and feel through the genius of music.

Late into the night yesterday I messaged Lulu.  "What is it about music?" I asked, knowing she would understand my question without the need for further explanation.

"Emotive connection.  Linked to growth, ideology and cognitive memory." 

And really, that's all that matters.  As always, it's about the feeling. 

Next week is the concert.  The last time I was in the chapel was with Dad who was known as Danny.
Our finale?  LondonDerry Air - (Oh Danny boy.)



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