Making Music As Legacy

Did you have music in your home as you grew up?  What kind of music?  Did you play an instrument or sing? How has that exposure shaped your musical experiences and tastes today?  What musical legacies did you receive from your school? Your peers?  The culture? How have they impacted your life and what have you done with them?  If you had little exposure to music growing up, how has that lack shaped your life today? 

I am part of a wisdom circle. In it there are eleven members of the Life Planning Network and/or Sage-ing International who have come together to do the inner work of conscious eldering, as outlined in the late Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi’s pioneering From Age-ing to Sage-ing. At our last meeting we explored the meaning and impact of music in our lives, in other words, our music legacies, both received and given.

The experiences in our small group differed widely, depending on individual home and school experiences and the dominant popular music in the culture. Some members had never even thought about the importance of music in their lives until the topic was announced. In contrast, our convener Arleen Kuhlin had thought deeply about it, because music has long been one of the most important parts of her life.

Arleen remembers how as a teenager growing up in Massachusetts, she found herself unaccountably drawn to the Sunday afternoon organ concerts at the Worcester Museum of Art.  There was almost no music in her home, so she went alone, not knowing why except that she was deeply moved and comforted by the music. She somehow knew that she belonged there at those concerts. 

Much later, in the aftermath of her very painful divorce twenty years ago, she did two things to “save” herself: she began hiking and going to nightly concerts.  Nature and music provided her the needed balm for her suffering. She felt held and somehow healed by what she experienced outdoors and in the concert hall. Today she has read the scientific literature that shows that the dopamine released by listening to (and/or playing) music creates pleasure and strengthens the immune system.

Arleen still attends concerts several nights a week. More recently she joined a choir (Boston-based Una Voce), having decided to ignore the messages from her then teenage kids that convinced her she couldn’t sing. Following instead her delight in singing, she has discovered she has a rich alto voice.  Listening to her little granddaughter singing prayers while lighting the Hanukkah candles brings Arleen to tears, as it connects her to her own childhood and Jewish lineage. And Bobby McFerrin’s rendition of the 23rd Psalm will grace her memorial service.

In contrast to Arleen’s childhood, my parents of limited means had classical long-playing records and provided us (mediocre) piano lessons.  And in junior high I was drawn into the school band, playing a flute long since abandoned by my dad. My rich high school band experiences cemented my lifelong devotion to making and appreciating music, which I sometimes view as the poetry of sound or the language of the gods.

Music, especially classical, has continued to be central to my life. For several years I studied piano with my son David’s teacher. (This is the son I like to believe was “called” into the world ten days early by the trio sonatas I was playing that evening!) I sing in choirs/groups when I can. With a couple of extended breaks, I’ve played my flute throughout, for myself, in chamber music groups, and in periodic performances.

 It’s hard to imagine what my life would have been like without my flute and music in general––my joy, solace, growing edge, and antidote to aging. I’m so grateful that my Dad preserved his abandoned flute and eventually came to regard his flute and my love of music as one of his legacies to me.  Although long since gone from my possession, that original flute worked its magic, and now I hope to pass my love of music (and maybe even my flute) along to my grandchildren.   

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