Have a happy song in your heart

Posted: Friday, August 22, 2008

M y children and I were playing a game the other night, or at least part of a game. Had I taken time to read the instructions, we might have used some of the more obscure pieces that came in the box. But as it was, we were having too much fun to bother with rules.

I was singing a song to my kids while launching little plastic monkeys from a toy catapult on the musical accents. When the monkeys landed in a nearby plastic tree, I cheered. When I missed, I made less savory noises. The kids were soon mimicking my vocalizations, alternating cheers and jeers between lots and lots of laughter.

The next day, I heard my 3-year-old boy singing part of the song that launched a hundred monkeys the night before. He had a happy song in his heart.

I've had a talent for learning songs and song lyrics since I was a young boy. Over the years, I have committed thousands of songs to memory, several hundred of which have somehow remained with me to this day.

When I started college, I began playing guitar so that I might have something to accompany the growing list of songs in my head. I never quit playing. A few years after college, I found myself moonlighting in a country music band around the Reno area.

I was often approached by people while on stage and asked if I knew such-and-such a song by such-and-such an artist. Quite often, I would realize that I knew the song--lyrics, chords and all, even if I had never sung it or even thought about singing it. I was a popular musician.

Then one day I heard about a report that correlated the presence of country music stations in a given location with increased incidences of divorce, alcoholism, and depression in that location. I was especially struck by the report because a lot of the country music I sang at the time was about divorce, alcohol, and depression.

My reaction was to change the music I performed. Songs about cheating and drinking and failure were replaced with old saddle songs and equally old jazz standards. Immediately, I felt better about what I was playing.

Unfortunately, the patrons of the clubs where I played responded by looking for other bands and other places where they could continue to cheat and drink and wallow in misery.

My first job in Alaska was a music gig in a bar. Shortly thereafter, I began shift work at Greens Creek Mine and because of scheduling conflicts, I had to quit the gig. Thus ended my career as a musician.

Even so, I still like to perform. Before my two youngest children were born, I became involved in several productions with Juneau Lyric Opera, Perseverance Theatre, and Juneau-Douglas Little Theatre. I loved every show and look forward to a day when I can get back into it.

Music still holds considerable sway in my life. Different musical influences can still inspire hope or fear, depression or joy. Individual songs sometimes bring out feelings of love, just as some bring forth darker moods.

I injured my left ring finger a few years ago, cutting it and severing the nerve. Surgery restored a little sensation to the finger, but also induced what appeared to be carpal tunnel in my left wrist, and I could no longer play the guitar without enduring a great deal of pain.

The loss of my guitar playing was heartbreaking but short-lived. A few months after the accident, I started learning a Mozart fantasy on the piano, which for some odd reason didn't aggravate my injury. By the time I had trained my fingers to fumble through the piece, I discovered that the exercise had cured my wrist.

These days, my audience is limited to my wife and family. They endure my piano playing - I'm up to three songs now and encourage me to keep playing the guitar. My daughter has also started singing, and she's picking on the guitar strings too, just the way I remember picking on my dad's guitar when I was a boy.

It's enough to put a happy song in a father's heart.

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