UBC Day 5: Solving the Musical Puzzle

Music has been a part of me for as long as I can remember, but I often did not believe I was a part of it. I believed that music was inaccessible to me, that other people had beautiful voices but not me. I spent a very long time thinking that I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.

When I was a child, I would sing to the radio often or speed up the cassettes so that it sounded like a chipmunk voice. Don’t judge, The Chipmunks was one of my favorite cartoons back in the day! I would spend a lot of time singing to the radio and hearing from family that I was off-key. Sometimes songs were like a puzzle and I just had to provide the missing piece. When I sang along with the song’s melody, the song sounded fine, but it was missing this undefinable something that I couldn’t put my finger on. I stopped singing in front of people for a long time because I was embarrassed about my off-key abilities.

In middle school, I joined the choir as a soprano. I found that I could sing as long as it was in a group and I stuck to the melody line. At some point, however, someone sang, and I just had to find the missing piece. My music teacher was shocked and asked me to switch to an alto part, then would sing a note and have me sing one above or below the melody. What others saw as me being tone deaf was my providing the harmony and having no idea. Making that connection changed the way that I saw music and myself. No longer was I left out of this wonderful art. My flaw was an enviable desire of other people. I didn’t understand how others were unable to provide that missing piece that allowed the music to turn in to something that was suddenly full. If the puzzle needed a high note, I could easily sing it. If it provided a lower or middle note, I could sing that, too.

Being a part of choirs from middle school on allowed me to hone that craft. Even though I still know very little about music theory, I learned and practiced and found ways to complete the puzzle in many different ways.

My other long-standing music habit has been to find a genre that I didn’t know much about and make myself love it. This has worked for quite a few musical styles, but there are just some that I’m never going to enjoy, no matter how much I try. My trick is full immersion. If possible, I listen to nothing else but that style of music or specific author for thirty days. It takes thirty days to form a habit, quotes some random person somewhere. I didn’t know that then, but it has always worked for me. When I was a teenager, I made myself listen to contemporary Christian music for a month. I found the artists that I enjoyed and learned their music. After that month, the 90’s contemporary Christian music scene became something that I love even now.

A couple of years later, I gave myself the same challenge for country music, saturating myself in the world of 90’s country. I will always have a love for 90’s country but challenging myself in that way has made me a country music fan for life. Other styles that I have come to love thanks to the saturation technique is classical music, new age, filk music, some styles of folk music, Weird Al and parodies in general, 90’s pop and rock, just about every iteration of Nightwish, a big chunk of women-fronted gothic metal bands, modern bluegrass, acoustic covers of songs, different choirs, specific R&B artists, The Clark Sisters, and all things Dan Gibson Solitudes.

This method has allowed me to be open to other genres and experiences instead of getting stuck in only one style. It has worked for me and I use it often still.

I have been blessed enough to be able to have different singing experiences that I will write about later. The foundation of music, though? It is a firm one, first laid by my parents who loved Motown and soul, and then by churches that sang everything from older hymns to more current versions, at least back then. I am so fortunate that music continues to be a huge part of my life and brings me solace and delight. Now, I finally understand that I was always a part of the music. I just needed to realize that I knew exactly how the puzzle was constructed and I was just trying to provide the missing piece.

How have you developed your music genre tastes over the years?

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