Summer Music Challenge: My Oldest Friend

This installment will be about someone I’d rather forget about.

music challenge

I am fortunate to not have had too many falling outs with friends. I don’t have many enemies, either. Even the people I’m on bad terms with aren’t worth me writing a blog post about. However, even though I don’t straight-up hate anyone, there are a few friendships I wish hadn’t ended. I’ve had a few that fizzled out with time, and I wonder that with just a little more effort, maybe they could have been saved.

I present to you “My Oldest Friend” by Andrew Belle from his album, The Ladder.

Don’t wanna sound ridiculous
But I think you know I’m sick of this
And I kind of think that we can bend, do you?
I’ll try to be a better friend to you
You know I miss you in my life
And I kind of think I realize
That I was only looking out for me
Instead of getting you the help you need

Oh, who do you think you are?
Who do I think I am
Barely listening to my oldest, my oldest friend?
Oh, my oldest, my oldest friend

I’ve given one, you’ve taken two
But this medicine has followed you
From the eastern coast and back again
So, I tell you once but not again
That I only miss you in my life
And I hope you finally realize
That I’m only looking out for you
When I’m not afraid to see this through

Oh, who do you think you are?
Who do I think I am
Barely listening to my oldest, my oldest friend?
Oh, my oldest, my oldest friend

So, wanna sound ridiculous?
‘Cause I think you know I’m sick of this
And I kind of think that we can bend, do you?
I’ll try to be a better friend to you
You know I miss you in my life
And I kind of think I realize
That I was only looking out for me
Instead of getting you the help that you need, but…

This song is giving off some “How to Save a Life” deja vu. I think the main storyline is that it’s about a friend who is addicted to drugs, hence the “This medicine has followed you” lyric. Belle alternates between statements of “I’m only looking out for you” and “I was only looking out for me,” which represents the inner turmoil anyone who has lost a friend due to addiction or other vices can relate to. You’re constantly torn between thinking you did everything you could and blaming yourself for something you could not have possibly known better about.

It relates to my life (thankfully, not in that way… for the most part), because there is blame on both sides. In every friendship of mine that has failed, there is a recurring pattern of me not paying enough attention to their needs, and them having a total disregard for mine.

The lyric “Who do I think I am, barely listening…” especially relates to me. I don’t know if this is true or not, as I have never been friends with myself, but I feel like I do more talking than listening. Which, someone who is not close with me would be confused by this statement, because I’m a rather reserved individual. However, in my close friendships I am very outspoken. I love to make my friends laugh. I love to share stories (very dramatic ones, if I do say so myself). And you can tell I love to ramble on because look at how long this blog post is.

I just don’t feel like I listen enough. There is one specific friend of mine who doesn’t really tell me much about herself. I have noticed in recent months that perhaps she prefers to divert the conversation from her life back to mine, and maybe I’m not completely selfish. But I still feel like I am. I feel like I’ve failed her in some way. And while we’re still friends, she is starting to pull away from pretty much all of her friends. Including me. I’m scared that I’m not fighting to keep this friendship.

On the other hand, there’s the lyric: “I’ve given one, you’ve taken two.” This applies to many other failed relationships I’ve had. None romantic. I think quite a few people will be able to relate to being taken advantage of; you give someone one thing and before you know it, they just keep taking. And so you try to be patient with them. You try to be a better friend to them.

But sometimes, even if you miss their presence in your life, you are no longer friends for a reason. It is easy to think back on the good times and think that the end was a mistake. But sometimes, there is too much damage on both sides. Sometimes, the best decision both parties can make is to move on.

Summer Music Challenge: The Water

This installment in the Summer Music Challenge is one of my favorite songs that reminds me of summertime.

music challenge

This song is one that I have held dear since my freshman year of high school, I believe. My, how the time flies! I can’t believe I was a freshman five years ago; sometimes, I still feel like that thirteen-year-old wannabe-broadcast journalist with the 3.0 GPA who could never be good enough, no matter how hard she studied. I can’t believe how far I’ve come since then. But this post isn’t about my mediocre-to-dean’s lister Hallmark inspirational story.

This song is “The Water,” written by Trent Dabbs. It is from his EP Decade Fades. I won’t get too much into his history, because I will probably include his other music in this challenge as the summer goes on.

If you go out late tonight, search for the morning stars. If moonlight is by your side looking lovely, daylight is in your arms.

Walking out with me now, question just where you are. Don’t let your fingertips hold it steady; shine it out with the sun. Oh no…

(Here is the water) ‘Cause I’ve always loved you, girl.

(Here is the water) Let this remove all doubt.

(Here is the water) Oh, my love.

If this be a parting wave, gather up what remains. If ever one night you should remember, let it be love today. Oh no…

(Here is the water) ‘Cause I’ve always loved you, girl.

(Here is the water) So let this remove all doubt.

(Here is the water) Oh, my…

Looking right at your brow, I need more than time allows. I’ll hold you closer than any other; tell me you hear me now. Oh oh…

(Here is the water) I’ve always loved you, girl!

(Here is the water) So let this remove all doubt!

(Here is the water) Oh, my love.

(Here is the water) I’ve always loved you, girl!

(Here is the water) Let this remove all doubt.

(Here is the water) Oh, my love.

I’ve always loved you, girl. I’ve always loved you, girl.

I’ve always loved you, girl…

I’ve always loved you, girl…

I’ve always loved you, girl…

I’ve always loved you, girl…

I’ve always loved you, girl. I’ve always loved you, girl. I’ve always loved you, girl.

I’ve always loved you, girl.

This song is so… simplistic. It’s to the point, but so poetic in a way. I didn’t even really process this song’s lyrics until I typed them up just now. And yes, I manually typed them because it is apparently an obscure enough song that none of the lyric websites have it.

I’m going to keep my analysis simple because it is a simple song. It’s just not that deep, and that’s kind of what I love about it. I think it’s about being in a serious relationship with someone and knowing that it may not last forever. Perhaps it’s about knowing that while you may be what one another needs right now, but you may not be soul mates.

And so, he reminisces back to their favorite place; likely the place where they fell in love. It is a place that seems to have already been dear to him that he introduced to her, and is letting her in emotionally by bringing her to such a special place. By bringing her to the water, it is such a small but at the same time very large gesture; he is showing how important she is to him. This is why every “Here is the water” is followed with, “I’ve always loved you, girl… so let this remove all doubt.”

Even if it doesn’t last forever, he wants her to remember the special place she holds, and will always continue to hold in his life. The last minute of the song also has some incoherent mumbling. I took it as whispering words that only she would know, like an inside secret. However, he continues to repeat “I’ve always loved you, girl” throughout the entire ending as the piano gently plays, like water in a shallow creek hitting the rocks.

I believe that the song’s last minute could be his future self looking back on his past self. It is him looking back on the water, the day, and the relationship as a whole. He remembers how special she was, and how special the place was to them. Looking back, he knows that he will never forget his first love. He has always loved her, and he always will. And so, he concludes with a final goodbye as the music fades.

Summer Music Challenge: 9,000 Days

Although more than one day has passed since the last post, here’s the next installment in the series: a song I like with a number in the title.

music challenge

The song I have chosen today is “9,000 Days,” performed by the South African vocal group Overtone.

“9,000 Days” is a track composed for the 2009 Clint Eastwood motion picture Invictus, featuring Morgan Freeman as the late South African president Nelson Mandela. The film, set in 1995, focuses on Mandela’s new freedom after spending 27 years in prison (roughly 9,000 days), hoping to begin to reunite South Africa after the recent end of apartheid. In order to begin, he tries to unite the country through rugby. Which, fun fact, I was in rugby club for a semester in eighth grade, but that’s not important right now.

The song, although the title pays homage to the amount of time Mandela spent incarcerated, is based loosely off of William Henley’s poem “Invictus.” The poem is written below.

Out of the night which covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Out of the night that covers me
I’m unafraid, I believe.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Beyond the hours that turned to years,
I thank whatever, whatever gods may be.
 
9,000 days were set aside,
9,000 days of destiny,
9,000 days to thank gods,
Wherever they may be…
 
It matters not the circumstance,
We rise above,
We took a chance.
And I thank whatever, whatever gods may be.
(Whatever gods may be…)
9,000 days were set aside,
9,000 days of destiny,
9,000 days to thank gods,
Wherever they may be…
 
Oh, a broken heart that turned to stone
Can break a man but not his soul!
 
9,000 days were set aside,
9,000 days of destiny,
9,000 days to thank gods,
Wherever they may be.
And I thank whatever, whatever gods may be…
This song is actually genius. It borrows phrases from the poem “Invictus” which is the poem that movie Invictus was named for, meanwhile connecting it back to Nelson Mandela through the repeated use of “9,000 days,” and LET’S NOT EVEN TALK ABOUT THE STRINGS SECTION OR THE BEAUTIFUL HARMONIES AND I– *breathes*
What I love about this song is its seamless incorporation of Henley’s original words. The original poem is so powerful, its meaning closing the work: I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul. 
It doesn’t matter what circumstance you’re in; it doesn’t matter what the odds are. You do not have to be conquered. You are the master of your fate, and you can decide how far you go.
And I love the lack of closure, how whenever gods are addressed, it is always followed with, “…wherever they may be.” It speaks to this weird part of the human soul that is unsure of its place in the universe. No one knows for sure what God has in store for us, and no one has solid, physical evidence that there even is one. But there will always be a desire for something to be out there, someone listening. Wherever or whomever they are, there is always a reason to be grateful. Even in the midst of the storm, there is always gratitude.

Summer Music Challenge: Black Sun

I have decided to participate in a Twitter summer music challenge, posting my thoughts on this WordPress instead.

music challenge

Today jump starts the challenge: a song I like with a color in the title. The song I have chosen, although there are so many good songs I know with a color in the title, is Death Cab for Cutie’s “Black Sun.”

“Black Sun” is a track on Death Cab’s 2015 album, Kintsugi. Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken materials (such as pottery) with gold, showing that even though the scars of the brokenness prevail, the material will be made even more beautiful for it.

There is whiskey in the water
And there is death upon the vine
There is fear in the eyes of your father
And there is “Yours” and there is “Mine.”
There is a desert veiled in pavement
And there’s a city of seven hills
And all our debris flows to the ocean
To meet again, I hope it will.

How could something so fair
Be so cruel
When this black sun revolved
Around you?

There is an answer in a question
And there is hope within despair
And there is beauty in a failure,
And there are depths beyond compare.
There is a role of a lifetime
And there’s a song yet to be sung
And there’s a dumpster in the driveway
Of all the plans that came undone.

How could something so fair
Be so cruel
When this black sun revolved
Around you?
How could something so fair
Be so cruel
When this black sun revolved
Around you?

There is whiskey in the water
And there is death upon the vine
And there is grace within forgiveness
But it’s so hard for me to find.

How could something so fair
Be so cruel
When this black sun revolved
Around you?
How could something so fair
Be so cruel
When this black sun revolved
Around you?

This isn’t the most obscure song out there; you might have heard it on Quantico (and apparently it was on American Idol at some point). So, why am I sharing a song that you might already know?

As you may know, the beauty of art is the freedom of interpretation. If you know the history of Ben Gibbard (lead vocalist), you may have interpreted the lyrics as the story of Gibbard’s divorce from Zooey Deschanel. I believe that may be true. I mean, it definitely makes sense, given that many of the lyrics seem to point to the end of a marriage (i.e. “There is ‘Yours’ and there is ‘Mine'”, “There’s a dumpster in the driveway…”, “There is grace within forgiveness, but it’s so hard for me to find”).

However, I like to interpret the song’s overall message as coming to terms with the end of something; that something may be a marriage, it might be getting laid off from a job, losing a friend, etcetera. It is a song about knowing that you have reached the end, knowing that you cannot turn back anymore. And yet, there is still confusion. There is still a looming emptiness. There is still a desire to experience good times that will never come again. Then there are the questions that haunt. How does something just… end? How do you find the beauty in the failure? How do you rebuild after your plans come undone? How do you learn to forgive those who have wronged you?

And what if there is no person at fault? What if there is no clear right or wrong? What if things just met their natural end? Maybe no one was at fault; maybe it was fair. But how can something so fair be so cruel?

The lyric that breaks my heart the most is: “There is grace within forgiveness, but it’s so hard for me to find.”

This lyric has applied to my life time and time again. I know that holding grudges will only lead to my own demise. I know that I have to let go of whatever negative emotions I’m holding onto if I want to move on. I know that forgiving those who have wronged me in the past will lead me to a better path. However, it is just so hard to forgive. Sometimes, it’s just downright impossible.

Sometimes there is no clear end to the conflict. There is no visible light at the end of the tunnel. Although tragic, it is what makes life beautiful, in a way. There is no certainty, no way to know how the story ends. We’re left with a deceptive cadence, even after we are gone. Sometimes there is no clear higher purpose. Sometimes, life is just cruel.

The Conservatory Rejection Letters: The Initial Shock

Being rejected by your dream college or conservatory will obviously lead to some unpleasant emotions. Now, my situation is likely not very similar to most others, as I already had a pretty good idea that I wasn’t getting in after… like, two measures into my piece. As soon as I walked out of the audition room, I literally went into the second floor bathroom to cry. Like, ugly crying. Like, before my audition date, I can honestly say that only about five or six people had ever seen me cry; now, that number is probably closer to thirty if we’re being honest. And then after crying in there, I went down to the student lounge in the basement (which only current BW students really know about, so none of the other auditioning students were in the room, and I was by myself for awhile) to silently cry. I got to pet a dog, so I ended up semi-okay after awhile, but things were rough.

I got most of the crying out of the way on that day. When I actually got my admission decision, I was on Spring Break (as you might imagine, my break was kinda ruined) and I was about to take a break at work. I shouldn’t have even been on my phone at the time, but when I saw an e-mail with the subject “Your BW Conservatory Admission Decision” with the first line being “Dear Hope, thank you…” I already knew what it was about to say. I ended up reading the rest of the e-mail in the employee bathroom.

Oh.

That’s what I remember thinking after I finished reading. That familiar sinking feeling in the chest and watering of the eyes hit me like a freight train.

Now, I wasn’t actually supposed to be on break anymore (yes, I went over the fifteen-minute time limit… I was grieving, okay?), so I told myself I could cry about it later, but for now I had some books to shelve. Even worse? Well, not much worse, and actually not worse at all, but still pretty bad? I made plans for later. So, not only could I not cry at work, but I had to go meet up with three of my friends and pretend I was okay.

I ended up not pretending I was okay. I texted one of them beforehand, straight up saying, “I just got the official rejection letter, so if I seem off today, that’s gonna be why.” Also, while I was there (trying to have a good time and make fun of STEM majors), one of the friends asked me about it. I tried to not talk about music at all, but I think I might have slipped up and made a self-deprecating joke about my abilities. This friend goes to BW as a National Security major, and had tried to convince me that I didn’t do as bad as I thought I did, and probably got in (little did she know that I was being realistic– I knew) until I said, “No, like I actually got the e-mail today. It’s official.”

I could tell everyone in the room felt a little awkward about the situation (I mean, what do you say? “That’s rough, buddy”?), but I think the subject got changed somehow.

Long story short, I never actually had the time to cry about it. But I’m glad I didn’t cancel my plans (even though I really, really wanted to). Sometimes, the best way to deal with bad news is to surround yourself with friends who take your mind off of it. However, it is important to note: the way you deal with the initial shock sets the tone for your recovery.

It took me two months to “get over it.” And by getting over it, I mean not thinking about it every second of the day. I still think about it at least once or twice every day, even though I’m in at Cleveland State. If I had simply allowed myself to be sad for awhile, the healing process might have accelerated. Yeah, the facade I tried to put up didn’t fool my friends at all, but I still feel like I put a cap on my emotions. As a result, the admission decision kept nagging at me for weeks until I was nearly driven to insanity.

By the time April arrived, I was expected to be over it, or at least that was what I expected of myself. I felt like a nuisance by talking about it with others, especially when talking to non-musicians (which, only one or two of my close friends are musicians; only one is actually working towards a B.M./B.M.E.). I even considered talking to a therapist at one point, but that ended up not happening for some stupid reason (I may not be a talented musician, but I am talented at avoiding conversations and society in general). I just felt like I was stuck in some never-ending cycle of emotions, and I never fully dealt with any of them. I even began to have these weird things during choir when I couldn’t sing– I was always slightly hyperventilating and on the verge of fainting, my singing being like, “Si…cu-u-t ce-e-rvu-u-s de-e-si de-erat ad fo-o-o-o-ntes.” And all of this, I believe, was caused by hiding from my emotions.

I tried to power through it, acting like I wasn’t hurt at all. In reality, I went through one of the most devastating things in my life. I mean, I have been to a few funerals for loved ones. So that was worse. But this? My entire existence revolved around the arts. Musical theatre, creative writing, guitar, singing, culinary art, voiceover– it was my passion. Being told that I actually sucked hurt, even if I knew it wasn’t my best performance. Shockingly, self-deprecating jokes didn’t make me feel any better, either.

So, what is the best way to deal with the initial shock?

The best way to deal with it is to acknowledge what happened, and understand that your feelings, whatever they may be, are valid. The main thing that held me back was the feeling that I shouldn’t be hurt. That what happened was minor, so why was I so upset about it? There are people who are victimized by crime, who have faced failed relationships and marriages, who have failed out of college, and I was sad about this?

Yes, there are other issues in the world. But yours matters, too. Give yourself some time to be upset, and when you’re ready, get back out there.

Lessons Learned Freshman Year: School Choice

Since writing the first post in the Conservatory Rejection Letters series approximately two weeks ago, something good has happened to me! I was accepted into Cleveland State University to study Pre-Music. From there, I will work closely with the University faculty in order to begin my major, whichever I may choose. I am actually thinking about triple majoring (of course, my mom thinks that is a bad idea) in Education, Performance, and Therapy. If my BW music credits don’t transfer correctly (the Pacific Ocean will freeze over before I re-take Intro to Music Therapy), then I’ll just do Music Education/Performance and go back to BW for Post-Bac.

I’m really excited, and not even in an I-guess-I’ll-learn-to-be-happy-here-because-I-have-no-choice kind of way. I actually think I’ll be more happy at CSU than at BW, if I’m being honest. When I first started applying to college (almost two years ago!), I had very specific criteria: big school, in or near the city, DI athletics (preferably with a gymnastics club or easy-to-make cheer team, but I’ve accepted that my athletic days are over and instead will look for an adult gym class), top-notch journalism and music departments (because I originally wanted to double major in Journalism and Voice), and not necessarily a party school (but, you know, a couple places to get a little turnt… or lit… whatever the kids are saying these days).

At that time, my dream school was Northwestern University. It was actually my dream school all throughout high school, tbh, but that’s not important because long story short, I wasted over a hundred dollars on that school. $75 just to apply. And then an additional whatever-amount-of-money on retaking the ACT. And then still got rejected. Shockingly, I wasn’t even upset about being rejected by my dream school; I was just bitter that I slaved at my job just to get rejected.

Anyway. So, you already know that I ended up picking Baldwin Wallace. The funny thing is, BW didn’t actually meet most of my criteria. It is a very small school (about 4,000 students), it is definitely not in the city (but it is in close proximity to Cleveland), we’re a DIII school (which didn’t really affect me, so I didn’t care), no Journalism major (but obviously a very top-notch music program… which I also wasted $75 trying to get into. I need to stop spending $75 on things), but thankfully not a party school (with a couple places to get turnt).

I liked Baldwin; I really did. I should actually stop using past tense because I gotta go back in the fall. But looking back, I don’t think I was very happy there. I’m lucky that I had a car to go to Parma, North Royalton, Strongsville, and Cleveland every once in a while, because I would have felt so isolated if I had no means of leaving campus. It was just too small for me; if it was warm out, I could visit the parks or go hiking, and that was always quite refreshing. However, there weren’t a lot of places to eat besides the dining hall (well, that a college student could afford). And mostly, I didn’t really have anything to do.

Now, I’ll be honest– I brought some of this on myself. I didn’t join any clubs. But then again, I wasn’t really interested in any of them. I mean, I was interested in gospel choir, but for some reason I didn’t do it. I was interested in diving team, but I can’t really swim all that well, so… I’m a little under-qualified. So at the end of the day, the only thing I got involved in was choir, which is a class. I attended a Cleveland Student Music Therapists club meeting second semester, but I wasn’t really an MT major, so there wasn’t much I could contribute.

Basically, due to my lack of involvement on campus, I had a very limited pool of friends. I didn’t really belong in the music department (there is a certain breed of Con kid. First, you have to actually be one; second, most are extroverts). At the same time, I didn’t feel like I belonged in the liberal arts college. I eventually made a few friends who had similar interests, but it took almost the entire year before that.

The second semester was definitely the best. I finally found something to do on the weekends (due to being required to attend 12 concerts and recitals). I actually started to really like my college. However, after my lackluster audition, it became apparent that I could settle for a degree I didn’t want, or try again somewhere new. Because while I am sad that I will have to leave BW, I settled for more than just a non-music major. I settled for something safe.

I settled for a school my parents wanted me to go to (even though they made it clear they would support any decision I made, they really wanted me to pick BW). In fact, I didn’t really even visit any other schools, save for Wittenberg. When I visited BW, I wrote in my journal:

I really liked the faculty and the Conservatory, but it wasn’t a love-at-first-sight type deal. Will I ever experience that? Either way, it’s likely that I’ll commit to BW. We’ll see what happens, though.

I actually ran out of time deciding where to go for college. I literally committed on April 30th. Now, I was pretty sure I’d pick the school pretty much right after I visited. But I wonder how I would have felt if I’d been to Cleveland State.

I didn’t even bother applying because CSU didn’t have a Journalism major (and I had no idea they had a Music Therapy program). But I’m so glad I’ll be there in the Spring.

I’m not settling– I get to study what I love there, and they actually want me for it! It’s located in downtown Cleveland, all of the dormitories are air-conditioned and apartment-style (BW has some dorms like that– incoming freshmen, request Davidson Commons… can’t stress that enough), and it’s literally right next to Playhouse Square. I can keep my job in Parma. Plus, on a more sentimental note, I can always visit Baldwin Wallace if I want to.

Baldwin Wallace was not the right school for me, but that doesn’t mean I won’t miss it. Though few, I do have friends there. I’ll miss seeing them in class. I’ll miss attending jazztet concerts. I won’t miss all-nighters in MACS, but I will miss the vending machines in there. I’ll miss the nice ladies working at Lang. I’ll miss the proximity to Coe Lake. Luckily, I won’t have to miss Cru (they have it at CSU). I’ll miss studying in Ritter. I’ll miss studying in the BMAC student lounge.

However, I know that I will be happier at Cleveland State. Not only will my personal college experience be greater, but I will graduate with the credentials to succeed in a field I truly enjoy. Besides, like I said, I’m going to end up doing Post-Bac or grad school at BW anyway, so it’s not a goodbye forever.

So, what is the moral of the story?

Apply to a college you love. Don’t worry if it doesn’t have a specific major. Don’t worry about what your family will think. Don’t settle for a school that doesn’t meet your personal criteria, because you likely won’t be happy there.

Know what you want out of a college, and don’t settle for anything less.

***

DISCLAIMER: It should be noted that I have no beef with Baldwin Wallace University or its faculty. It is a wonderful college that I do not regret attending. Now that I’m mid-yeet, it’s easier to remember the less-than-ideal details about the school. However, there are plenty of good things about it. In fact, if you ever find yourself in Berea, Ohio, give it a visit.

The Conservatory Rejection Letters: Confidence

Con reject. That is the last thing I wanted to be able to label myself as. However, though the road to accepting the title has been difficult, being a music conservatory reject has made me into who I am today.

If you’re reading this post, you’re most likely a Con Reject™ as well. Not much that anyone can say or do will make you feel better, especially if you were (like in my case) rejected by the only program you auditioned for. However, with time, you will learn to grow as a musician and person from this experience. So, welcome, fellow Conservatory Reject™. Here is my advice for you.

Stop waiting for someone to validate your talents.

If you auditioned for college/conservatory, you have likely auditioned for other ensembles and productions in the past. Therefore, it likely was not your only rejection that you experienced. However, it was probably the most painful one. And if you’re anything like me, you not only saw the audition as admission into your dream major, but also as validation of your abilities. “If I can get in,” I told myself prior to auditioning, “then I’ll know I’m not crazy. I’ll know that I can actually sing.” But you know what’s crazy?

I can sing. I was cast in Les Miserables with my community theater. I performed with the Miami Valley Symphony Orchestra during their closing concert of the 2014/15 season. I was one of the top five junior female vocalists in Ohio at the 2012 Fine Arts Festival. I was offered lessons in one of the Wittenberg University professors’ vocal studios. I received a Superior rating at the 2015 National Fine Arts Festival for a trio I sang Alto in. I am in a collegiate choral ensemble.

So why did I need evidence that I was actually good? I kept thinking of my achievements as little.

I’m not tone deaf. I was only an ensemble member. Anyone could have done that MVSO concert. Maybe the competition I was against wasn’t that steep. Maybe the professor offered me lessons out of pity. I was only one member of the group. Maybe everyone who auditioned for choir got in.

But, here’s the thing: even if I had gotten in, that achievement would have been added to my list of pride turned into doubt. I would have said that I got in because I wasn’t a performance major, because of my essay, because of my GPA, because of my already being a BW student, because of my interview. Eventually, I would have begun looking for something else to fill that void where my confidence should be.

If I get an A in this jury, then I’ll know I’m good.

If I get a solo at the choral concert, then I’ll know I’m good.

If I get this internship, then I’ll know I’m good.

STOP.

I know I’m good because I’m better than I was yesterday.

Stop comparing yourself to your peers.

My roommate during orientation overnight the summer before freshman year can hit a high C like it’s a middle C. My roommate during the actual school year was a choralier at her high school. My friend in my night class was in Motet Choir this year (basically the best choir at BW). My classmates in my FYE were in the highest two sections of Theory. Me?

I have taken exactly one piano lesson in my life. I have been singing since I was ten, but I didn’t begin training in opera and art songs until I was preparing for my college audition. I tried studying Theory the summer after my junior year of high school but I didn’t actually retain anything. And I could not for the life of me read the bass clef.

So, how did I handle this?

I could mope about wishing my parents had sent me to an arts school or even just my district high school instead of one without a freaking music program and I’m still a little bitter about that because I probably would have gotten in if I weren’t a voice primary or if I had more classical training but that’s not the point. I could complain that I “just don’t have an opera voice,” and that it’s unfair that you must have a classical voice to get into most Vocal Performance and other music majors (which, I mean, although I have developed a classical voice, I still hold onto the opinion that it is not the only genre that should be accepted; holding European classical music as the standard sets the belief that music of other cultures is less challenging or less important, which is not true, but that is a different post for a different time). I could give up because I will never sound like them.

But I did the opposite. My Twitter background is the bass staff. I bought Music Theory for Dummies and studied it like it was biblical text. I improved my sight singing. I made a point to warm up on my own before choir and then sing some of my own repertoire after choir. I started learning how to play piano (I am working on “Engagement Party” from La La Land currently). I worked on expanding my range (I have improved my upper range by two whole steps). I learned how to transpose. I did other things that I don’t remember.

And you know what happened? I improved. I stopped comparing myself to people who had more opportunities growing up than I had. Obviously, Suzie whose parents enrolled her in cello lessons at the age of six will know more (and have better technique) than a girl who taught herself everything. But hey, I taught myself everything I know– that’s an achievement in itself. And for someone who started with a great disadvantage, I have begun to close the gap. I am better than I was yesterday, and someday, I will be at Suzie’s level. That day just is not today.

Lastly, learn how to take a compliment.

Every musician I know (myself included) is guilty of this one. Someone tells them they did a good job after a concert or recital, and then here it comes:

“I made so many mistakes!”

“My voice cracked like, three times.”

“My bow needed more rosin.”

“My guitar was out of tune.”

“I shouldn’t have pressed the sustain pedal as often as I did.”

With all due respect, learn to shut up.

Maybe you did make a lot of mistakes. Maybe they noticed, and maybe they didn’t. But that doesn’t change the fact that they most likely meant what they said. Despite any flukes, they think that your overall performance was strong enough that they either didn’t notice them, or felt the performance wasn’t hindered. So, own it. Just say “thank you.”

As musicians, too often we focus on our failures. And as Con Rejects™, we do so tenfold. But we must remember our strengths as well, and use them as encouragement to move forward. Every day is a new day, and a new day is a new opportunity to grow. Take that opportunity, and try again.

Until the Journey’s End: My Music Therapy Story

NOTE: The post written below is an admissions essay that I wrote for the Baldwin Wallace University Conservatory of Music in order to be considered for acceptance into their Music Therapy program. Ultimately, I was rejected, and am currently considering transferring to Wright State University, Cleveland State University, College of Wooster, or Wittenberg University (whose music program I have already become familiar with, as I attended workshops with Dr. Kazez there during my senior year of high school). While this is disappointing, and I am still very sad about having to leave BW after sophomore year, I believe that, much like as is stated in Death Cab for Cutie’s ‘Black Sun,’ “there is beauty in a failure.” 

What this means to me is that in every failure, there is something good that will come out of it. It is very difficult to be optimistic about something I worked so hard for, just to crack under pressure in the audition room. Honestly, I do not know what will come out of this; I invested a lot of time and energy (and stress… lots of stress… and some tears but whatever lol) into hopefully becoming a student music therapist, so it’s kind of difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but still. “So, why are you sharing your admissions essay if you didn’t even get in?” you may ask. Good question!

Well, honestly, I just want this to be public record (for the same reason I have published my other college essays on here) so that it can be read by more than just the few admissions officers who probably won’t remember anything about it; after all, this is just one essay out of hundreds that were reviewed. Additionally, I know that there were a few people who my parents informed about my audition who may be wondering how it went (to answer y’all: my major is Early Childhood Education). I don’t really feel like talking about it or my future plans in person, so… this post kind of serves as an explanation for some things. Also, I spent like three months writing this essay, so I want it to be on display somewhere. There are some grammatical errors and a few things that I wish I did/didn’t include in the final draft, but for the sake of authenticity, the essay below is exactly what was submitted.

(MORE DISCLAIMERS: In the section when I start talking about the specific years of my father’s timeline, they might not necessarily be 100% accurate. The only years that I know for certain are correct are the year of his retirement (2003), the year he wanted to retire (2013), and the year of his diagnosis (1992). The rest are educated guesses because my memory is kinda weird. Like, I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I found out Michael Jackson died (someone whose music I didn’t even listen to while he was alive) but I can’t remember these dates that are actually kinda relevant to my life. Which, for the record, when I found out Michael Jackson died I was in New Philadelphia, Ohio at a church summer camp painting a kid’s nails. It was a Thursday, and I’m pretty sure it was June 25th. I had just finished fifth grade and– ANYWAY! That is all.)

Well, I think that’s all that needs to be covered before I write the essay below! Remember, kids– life has many setbacks, but that’s no excuse to give up. *finger guns*

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Looking back on the past eighteen years of my life, there is no set path that led me to pursue a career in music therapy. In fact, there have been several instances that I have lost my way, hoping to find peace in other areas of interest. However, from the very first days of my life, I have encountered signs on the side of the path that have led me back to the main road.

I am the youngest child in a family of five (seven, if you include our two dogs), and all of us except for my biology-loving sister, Faith, have performed in music ensembles. My mother spent much of her teenage years as the only alto clarinetist in the now-defunct Cleveland All-City Orchestra, performing in Severance Hall and in other venues throughout the Cleveland area. My father is a jazz-trained bass guitarist, who has over thirty years of experience in jazz bands, military music ensembles, orchestras, and church music groups. My eldest sister, Charity, performed as a soprano in our local high school’s Varsity choir, performing in concert venues all over the United States.

It goes without saying that as the baby of the family, I have been immersed in music from the very first days of my life. As a young child, I would often attend my father’s rehearsals, admiring how he played his bass guitar with such ease and great energy. In these rehearsals, I remember thinking, “I want to be just like my daddy someday.”

Soon, I found myself following in the footsteps of my parents shortly after singing my first vocal solo in a church service at the age of ten. I then began to teach myself new strumming techniques on the acoustic guitar, purchased an autoharp, and even learned a major scale or two on the violin.

After years of exploring my musical interests, I began performing in the community through participating in music theatre and vocal performance master classes through the Victoria Theatre Association and Human Race Theatre Company, along with training in music theatre vocal repertoire with Ashley Leasure, a Master of Music at the Wright State University. Selections representative of my lessons with her are Boublil and Schonberg’s “On My Own” and “I Dreamed a Dream,” along with several selections from Avenue Q and Jekyll & Hyde. During my time training with her, I was cast as a Mezzo-Soprano in the Miami Valley Symphony Orchestra and Dayton Playhouse production of Les Miserables, as well as being given the opportunity to perform with the Miami Valley Symphony again under the direction of David Deitrick during their last concert of the 2014-2015 season, a production of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony no. 9.

Overlapping the time I spent rehearsing and performing with the orchestra, two of my friends also decided to form a self-conducted small vocal ensemble, performing an a cappella rendition of “Mary Did You Know” at the Ohio Fine Arts Festival (myself singing the alto and tenor parts) and eventually performing at the National Fine Arts Festival in Orlando, Florida (at which we received a Superior rating). Throughout the course of my final year of high school that followed, I performed with my school’s senior vocal ensemble at graduation, and even originated a voice acting role in the Dayton Writers Movement audio drama Unwritten. However, even though I thoroughly enjoyed participating in the arts, my college career began on an entirely different track.

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INTERRUPTION (sorry)

Attached are two of the three recorded “Mary Did You Know” performances.

Above: This is us singing offertory a few months before Nationals. I’m the first soloist, and the middle voice during harmony. I ran out of breath a couple times in this.

Above: Yes, I’m wearing a headscarf. It was 2 a.m., which explains what happened at 1:11.

Above: This last video is actually me on a really bad vocal day, but overall this is probably the best one.

Okay, sorry. Back to the essay.

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As college auditions were drawing near, I found myself growing more and more unsure of my capabilities. Although it is true that I have had several performance opportunities, I still felt inadequate compared to my peers; none of the schools I attended while growing up had music programs, I had not been able to take as many private lessons as most musicians due to the financial and logistical struggles of dealing with my father’s illness, and I simply felt unprepared. I found myself cancelling auditions just as soon as I scheduled them, ultimately deciding to major in Criminal Justice instead.

It didn’t take very long to realize that I had made a mistake in choosing my major. Every day, I would wake up and remind myself that it would just be another class to sit through, another exam to take, another four years of studying a field I wasn’t truly passionate about. This short period of my life would pass faster than I would know; technically, I didn’t even have to use my degree. I just needed to study something, even if I spent my days staring at the clock. I never felt that connection to my major that everyone else seemed to have; everyone else seemed to have a sense of pride when asked what their major was. I, however, wanted nothing to do with mine.

I still wanted to do something in the field of music. Even more so, I wanted to do something that would positively impact my community. Luckily, during my first semester here at Baldwin Wallace, I was given the opportunity to participate in two organizations that would change my perspective on my career as I knew it: BW Singers and America Reads.

Performing as an Alto II under the direction of Dr. Weagraff, I found myself learning more and more about choral music every day; in BW Singers I found myself surrounded by both with similar experience and abilities, which shattered my expectation of the Conservatory being a cut-throat environment and restored some of the confidence I lost during my last year of high school. However, my work-study position with America Reads is what truly got me out of the Criminal Justice major.

America Reads is a tutoring program provided by the Cuyahoga County Public Library system through which students in grades Kindergarten-Grade 8 participate in after-school tutoring at one of the Cuyahoga library branches. In October, I began working at the Parma branch as a student tutor. Many of our students come from underprivileged backgrounds, receive low marks in school, or live with cognitive disabilities. As I spent more of my week days outside of work trying to find new ways to help my students with disabilities, I began to realize that perhaps my interests truly lied in working with those affected by mental and physical handicaps. I knew I wanted to work with music, but I didn’t want to simply perform; I also did not feel like a career in music education would be the best option for me, either. I also knew that I wanted to help rehabilitate those suffering from impairments, but I didn’t want to be a physical or occupational therapist.

Like many confused college students, I called my mother to ask for her advice. “Why don’t you consider a career in music therapy?” she asked. It was at that moment that everything made sense, as I was already quite familiar with music therapy due to my father’s struggle with Multiple Sclerosis.

Diagnosed with M.S. in 1992, my father’s careers in the Air Force and music performance both eventually had to be cut short. Being a progressive disease, the disease slowly took away the things he loved in small steps. First, he was forced to retire ten years earlier than he had hoped due to his inability to walk without limping. Having been born in the latter years of his military career, I have very few memories of my father’s time in the service. However, I do have vivid memories of my father’s passion for continuing in his Air Force career, hoping to retire in 2013 after thirty years of service. Returning back to civilian life was difficult, and not even two years after retiring from the Air Force, he was also unable to remain in the work force. Then, he became more reliant on walking with a cane. In 2011, he stopped driving. In 2013, even walking with a cane became too dangerous, and he began using a walker. And in 2014, he lost the most important thing to him: his ability to play his bass guitar at the level of proficiency necessary to keep up with the music.

In the present day, my father often uses a motorized wheelchair to get around public spaces, while he is still able to walk very short distances at home. He has lost most of the functioning on the right side of his body, which makes daily tasks such as writing or using eating utensils difficult. Furthermore, his cognitive ability is declining at a steady rate, and his memory continues to weaken more each day.

My father began attending music therapy sessions at the Dayton Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center after years of participating in occupational and physical therapy. Working with the institution’s board-certified music therapist, he was able to work with different strumming techniques and musical exercises to improve his physical strength. Unfortunately, my father’s therapist has recently retired, and the medical center has not found a replacement for her. While my family is fortunately financially stable enough to hire a private-practicing music therapist, many of the other veterans at the VA solely rely on their veterans’ benefits to receive health care, and have been forced to terminate music therapy treatment until the center hires a replacement.

Living near the University of Dayton (where there is a music therapy program), it is rather confusing that there are so few music therapists, and frankly, it is disturbing. Time and time again, music therapy has produced evidence of being beneficial to all people; yet so few have access to it.

I want to help change that. After that phone conversation with my mother that day, I knew that I had found what I wanted to do with my life. I began working with Blaine Heeter, a Master of Music at Wright State University and teacher at Stivers School for the Arts, on the pieces that I will be presenting at my upcoming audition, which include Reynaldo Hahn’s “L’Heure Exquise” in B flat major. After last semester ended, I also met with a local piano teacher in the Dayton area to learn to play the hymn “How Great Thou Art,” which I will be performing in the piano placement portion of the audition.

In addition to preparing my performances, I have also registered for many of the required music courses. I am in my second semester of BW Singers, I am enrolled in Performance Attendance, Beginning Guitar Class, Introduction to Music Therapy, and Educating Children with Special Needs. As a student in Professor Edie Hardin-Steiner’s Introduction to Music Therapy course, I have observed and interviewed Amy Schneider, MT-BC at Laurel Lake Retirement Community. I have also begun attending Cleveland Student Music Therapist club meetings in order to become more involved in Baldwin Wallace’s music therapy community. In addition, I am a declared Applied Music minor and an advisee under Professor Nanette Canfield.

I believe that I am a strong candidate for Baldwin Wallace’s music therapy program for a multitude of reasons. Not only have I taken music courses and extracurricular activities here, but I also have completed the majority of the prerequisite courses necessary. I have already taken Principles of Psychological Science, Principles of Sociology, Workshop in Exposition and Argument, and the First-Year Experience requirement (receiving grades of A and A+ in all of the courses). In addition, I have achieved a 3.911 GPA during my first semester here at BW and have a strong work ethic. This upcoming summer, I plan on taking extra Biology, Psychology and HPE courses in order to finish the remainder of my prerequisites; I also plan on attending the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music choral conducting workshop in July. Furthermore, being a year older, I am more prepared. Having spent a semester here already, I am well-adjusted to the expectations of college life, and due to the time I have spent in the liberal arts departments, I can say that I have adequately explored my other options, and am certain that a career in music therapy would be a good fit for me.

I believe that there are many ways that I could positively impact the world as a music therapist. Due to my family’s personal experience with musical interventions with Multiple Sclerosis, I have developed an interest in using music therapy as a means for helping clients suffering from autoimmune and neurodegenerative disorders. In addition, I am also interested in pursuing geriatric care, working in a retirement home in the Cleveland area. After spending a few years in the practice, I plan on pursuing a Master’s degree in Psychology, so that I can further develop my understanding of mental, intellectual, and developmental disorders and apply the knowledge to enhance my therapeutic services.

At the end of the day, there are so many possibilities with the field of music therapy that it is impossible for me to pin down a single path I would like to take with it. However, I believe that the Baldwin Wallace Conservatory will help me realize my potential as a student music therapist, and I believe that I have the persistence, the passion, and the creativity necessary to thrive as a member of BW’s learning community.

I know that I have much to contribute to Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music’s class of 2021, and I know that I have so much that I need to learn. I know that there will be many challenges that come my way as a non-freshman beginning the music therapy track; I understand that I will not be graduating with my original class. However, I am excited to face whatever challenges come my way, and I am prepared to do whatever it takes, for however long it takes in order to make a difference in the lives of my future clients. I look forward to the opportunities that studying music therapy at Baldwin Wallace will bring, and I plan on seeing it through to the very end.

“I won’t lose hope until I go the distance and my journey is complete.”

-Michael Bolton, ‘Go the Distance’

 

What Makes a Monster and What Makes a Man: The Importance of Fairy Tales in Early Childhood

Bruno Bettelheim’s study, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, offers insight into the reason fairy and folk tales are often used to teach children lessons, using illustrations for topics that would otherwise be difficult for parents to discuss with their children. While many adults only desire to present pleasant images to children, teaching that there is no evil in the world is inefficient; youth are quick to pick up on the notion that there is. Bettelheim argues that through Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis, mankind is enabled to accept life’s struggles without allowing themselves to be defeated, but instead strengthened by their experiences and thus given meaning for their existence. Fairy tales are able to deliver these themes to offspring through following a structure similar to that of a daydream, through which they can be taught that while pain and suffering are inevitable, they may overcome their problems with great effort. Therefore, due to the benefits fairy tales pose for child development, Disney’s retelling of Victor Hugo’s classic Notre-Dame de Paris is efficient in teaching children to appreciate and understand other cultures through telling the story in a simplified format. Additionally, although Bruno Bettelheim’s research on fairy tales is shown to lack objectivity, Heike vom Orde proves that fairy tales are essential in child development, due to their efficiency in teaching values while also keeping the attention span of their audience.

Many tales begin with the death of a parent or another traumatic event. In order for young children to understand, the situation is simplified and unimportant details are omitted. The stories have a large focus on battles of good versus evil; a character is either good or bad, teaching children to easily comprehend the difference between the two. Although no one is truly good or evil in reality, Bettelheim argues that presenting such complexity in characters may confuse the young audience. Therefore, the protagonist and antagonist are displayed as distinct opposites, often leading the child to favor the character they can sympathize with the most: the character they believe to be “good.” This is likely because children can relate to the common theme of a character’s desire for a sense of belonging or to overcome one’s fears. The fairy tale then becomes a symbol of hope, reminding them that even the meekest of souls can achieve greatness (Bettelheim).

Psychologist Heike vom Orde further studies this approach in her article, Children Need Fairy Tales, conducting research through surveying young audiences and discussing the reception and criticism of Bettelheim’s claims. In the survey given, it is shown that 56% of German children ranging from the ages of nine to nineteen enjoy fairy tales, while 38% of those surveyed do not. A small margin of 6% only enjoy a few fairy tales (Orde, 1). Additionally, Orde addresses the concerns of the theory’s critics, who often stated that the work fails to reflect on the socializing function of folk tales and differentiates too little between folk tales and modern literature. Furthermore, Orde states that research proves Bettelheim’s claim that children enjoy fairy tales more than other children’s literature to be unsustainable. Additionally, Bettelheim is criticized for not having acknowledged the subjectivity of his interpretations. However, it is agreed that fairy tales are essential in child development, teaching children cultural values and morals.

Several adaptations of fairy tales have come into existence, most notably the works of the Walt Disney Animation Studios. Famous for its adaptations of tales such as The Little Mermaid and The Beauty Sleeping in the Wood (Sleeping Beauty), in 1996 the company released The Hunchback of Notre Dame as a child-friendly version of the classic Victor Hugo novel.

Originally published in 1831, Notre-Dame de Paris begins at the 1482 Festival of Fools, for which the physically and mentally handicapped Quasimodo leaves the bell tower of Notre Dame against the advice of his adoptive father, Archdeacon Claude Frollo. Later, after ordering Quasimodo to leave the festival, he orders him to aide in attacking a gypsy performer named Esmerelda as she walks home. Quasimodo is later arrested and tried for his crime; however, he is shown mercy by the young gypsy when she offers him water to drink during his public punishment. Esmerelda wins the affection of Quasimodo and Frollo, although she does not return the same affection to any of them; instead, she falls in love with one of the King’s soldiers, Phoebus de Chateaupers. This makes Frollo jealous, leading him to become obsessive and filled with lust for her. That night, he finds Phoebus and stabs him, accusing Esmerelda of his supposed death. While she awaits execution, Frollo visits her in her cell and gives her an ultimatum: she can love him or face death. She decides to face execution, and is hanged. At the cathedral, Quasimodo discovers her corpse and becomes furious, sending Frollo to his death by throwing him from the north tower. Upon seeing the cadavers of both the man who raised him and the woman he held dear, Quasimodo cries, “This is everything I ever loved.” After the events of the story, it is revealed that next to Esmerelda’s remains are the bones of a “hunchback,” as a depressed Quasimodo starves himself to death and dies by her side (Hugo).

In the 1996 Walt Disney film adaptation, the story follows a pattern that is much simpler for a child’s cognitive ability and attention span to follow. The film begins with the murder of Quasimodo’s mother, following the typical trope of fairy tales beginning with the loss of a parent. Then, despite the original novel’s diverse personalities in each character which often blur the lines of good and evil, Disney structures the story to fit the format of a fairy tale; there is a specific villain, Claude Frollo, whom is given few redeeming qualities; viewers are rarely shown his paternal side, and instead are conditioned to dislike him as he limits Quasimodo from accomplishing his dreams, attempts the genocide of those of Roma ethnicity, murders Quasimodo’s mother, and sings of his lust for Esmeralda (revised spelling of her original name), praying that “she will be mine or she will burn [in Hell] (Hulce et al.).” Through seeing the effects of Frollo’s oppression of Quasimodo and the gypsies, the audience is unable to sympathize with him, and instead are drawn to Quasimodo. In addition, not only are viewers taught to dislike Frollo, they are repulsed by the symbols for which he stands: corrupt leadership, racism, and sexism. Although children may not fully understand either concept at their age, they are shown the consequences that Frollo and the other characters face for his actions and the turmoil it causes them, leading the audience to understand how his behavior is harmful to society. After Frollo’s defeat, Quasimodo’s wish to be accepted into society is fulfilled, the gypsies are able to live in freedom, and the Parisians appear to be pleased with the outcome.

While Disney’s retelling is not as complex as the original literature, one must understand that the target audience would not have the capacity to truly appreciate the work in its unabridged form. However, the story’s themes of acceptance and freedom are still highly important for children to be taught; therefore, the only way to ensure the message would be instilled in a child’s mind is to follow the format of stories children are used to hearing.

Furthermore, the original novel deals with explicit themes of sex and murder; while the Disney version does touch upon these topics, it does so in a subtle form so that the audience is not distracted from the most important theme: acceptance. Utilizing every single detail from the original tale would only confuse a child, as their brain is not yet fully developed and does not yet understand the complex nature of many of Hugo’s topics. In addition, Hugo’s work is difficult for many adults to comprehend, often leaving the common citizen confused and only able to focus on the tragic ending in which all three principal characters meet a devastating death. Children are especially sensitive to traumatic events, often becoming psychologically damaged and subconsciously fearful due to being exposed to traumatic events at a young age. However, through giving the story a happy ending in which Quasimodo achieves many of his dreams, they are encouraged to believe that they too can leave a positive impact on their society, and that no matter where they come from or what they look like, there will always be something they can contribute. The film concludes with the quote, “What makes a monster and what makes a man?” (Kandel et al.) This final question proves the tale’s main point, which is that one’s character cannot be judged off appearance, but on their integrity. This is a lesson that many children will take with them into adulthood; they may only remember a few details, but they will remember all of the ones that matter.

 

 

Works Cited

Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. N.p.: Johns Hopkins UP, 1976. Print.

Hugo, Victor. Notre-Dame De Paris. N.p.: Gosselin, 1831. Print.

Hulce, Tom, and Tony Jay. By Stephen Schwartz and Alan Menken. Heaven’s Light / Hellfire. 1996. CD.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Dir. Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale. Perf. Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Tony Jay. Walt Disney Company, 1996. Videocassette.

Kandel, Paul. By Stephen Schwartz and Alan Menken. The Bells of Notre Dame (Reprise). 1996. CD.

Vom Orde, Heike. “Children Need Fairy Tales.” Televizion (2013): 17. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Liberation from Sexual Stigma

Prior to the late twentieth century, sex and violence were considered taboo among the general public. Although everyone was aware of the subjects, it was often considered too vulgar or unprofessional to speak of such adult behavior in a public setting. Blues music paved the way for many artists to express and embrace their sexuality. Although the men and women of the genre communicate in different ways (men writing about women in boastful and sexist ways, while women often express emotions of sorrow or sing of homosexual relationships), the use of sexual content in the blues shows audiences all of the frustrations of love and lust.

When blues music began to emerge, it was known for speaking of the pain and pleasure of the working class (Humphrey, 153). In fact, many genres with similar history, such as the tango of Argentina, are known for voicing the taboo—sex, alcoholic consumption, and drugs. Such music is known for giving detailed descriptions of lifestyles that, at that time, were considered scandalous. An example of this type of songwriting is “Walking the Street,” originally performed by Mamie Desdoumes (Desdoumes). The lyrics were later remastered in 1937, stating:

Stood on the corner till my feet got soakin’ wet,

Stood on the corner till my feet got soakin’ wet,

These are the words I said to each and every man I met.

“If you ain’t got a dollar, give me a lousy dime,

If you ain’t got a dollar, give me a lousy dime,

I’ve got to beg and steal to please that man of mine.

The original lyrics communicate that the prostitute works on the streets in order to provide for her husband, yet the later recording expresses the woman’s desire to please her lover, as she is willing to “beg and steal,” if only to keep hold of his love. The song’s lyrics combine the harsh realities of prostitution with the violence the lifestyle is often accompanied with, perhaps showing that sex and violence work hand in hand. While similar women’s blues songs dealing with the theme often are told from experience or out of sympathy, male blues musicians often focus on the physical aspects of a woman, such as in Blind Boy Fuller’s “Meat Shakin’ Woman.” The song’s lyrics are quite possessive, using language similar to referring to one’s property:

If when you boys see my woman you can’t keep her long

I say hey, hey, you can’t keep her long

I got a new way to keep her down, you “monkey men”” can’t catch on

Baby, for my dinner, I want ham and eggs

I say hey, hey, I want ham and eggs

And for my supper, mama, I want to feel your legs

While the lyrics may not be easily seen as violent, it can definitely be argued that they are misogynistic. Through saying, “I got a new way to keep her down,” he sounds like a slave master or brothel owner, communicating that she will always return to him, as she will always be his property (Fuller). He compares her to “ham and eggs,” showing that he views her as a meal that satisfies his inner desires, rather than as a partner. Therefore, although the lyrics are not explicitly violent in describing murder or rape, they encourage the very culture that encourages the maltreatment of females. Blind Boy Fuller is not the only one to use possessive lyrics to describe women, however. In Lonnie Johnson’s “You Can’t Buy Love,” he says:

You can give your woman plenty money,

Dress her up in fancy gowns;

She will tell her outside man

She’s got the dumbest, the dumbest man in town!

These lyrics seem slightly possessive as well, especially through saying “you can give your woman plenty money.” The main point of the stanza is that even when the man works hard for his woman and provides her with everything she could ever ask for (“plenty money” and “fancy gowns,” in this case), she still cannot be trusted to remain faithful (Johnson). While the song is likely told from the perspective of someone who has been cheated on, and it is a valid reason to be upset, a man should not be angry at a woman for such because of what he has done for her and what she can give him in return; rather, he should see her as an equal who will stay because she loves him, and not solely because she needs him to survive. Therefore, it is evident that men’s blues is a product of the time in which it was produced—a time when a man was considered the leader of the household and women were taught to be submissive. However, women’s blues defies the era it began in, teaching women to be proud of their sexuality.

Women’s blues also shows a more humorous view of sex. While Robert Johnson’s “Travelling Riverside Blues” is infamous for the line, “You can squeeze my lemon ‘til the juice run down my leg,” (Johnson) such humor is also found in Lucille Bogan’s “Shave ‘Em Dry,” which describes the singer’s sex life. She can be quoted singing:

Now your nuts hang down

Like a damn bell sapper,

And your dick stands up like a steeple.

Your goddamn ass-hole

Stands open like a church door,

And the crabs walks in like people.

Bogan speaks of her partner’s body parts with slang, often using humorous analogies such as comparing his “ass-hole” to a church door. While this can be considered immature, I believe that it teaches listeners that while physical intimacy can be a private matter, there is no shame in celebrating its pleasures. In fact, it can be fun. For example, Lucille Bogan also is known for her song, “B.D. Woman’s Blues,” “B.D.” meaning “Bull Dyke,” which is a term for a masculine lesbian (Bogan). In her day, her music was considered especially taboo. In fact, even in the present her lyrics are still considered vulgar. “B.D. Woman’s Blues” is one of the first blues songs to openly talk about lesbianism, stating that “Comin’ a time, B.D. women ain’t gonna need no men / Oh the way they treat us is a lowdown and dirty sin.” The lyrics describe the harsh reality of being a woman in her time; women were often treated as lesser beings and treated horribly by men. Therefore, a woman might be able to find comfort in having a relationship with another woman instead, as women can understand each other’s experiences. The music of Lucille Bogan shows women as every bit as diverse as men can be, owning their own sexuality and being unafraid to call out the sexist and violent behaviors of men.

While the sexist nature of some blues songs can certainly be considered a flaw of the artist, it is not a reflection on the entire genre. In fact, I believe that singing about sex helps people to understand it better. Growing up in a society where no one would talk about it, I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for people in that time to understand their sexual feelings without being ashamed of them. Furthermore, homosexuality was considered a taboo topic, and “coming out” as a gay man or lesbian would mean being removed from the church or even risking losing a job. However, even if society was having trouble embracing new sexual concepts and understanding feminism, the blues gave—and continues to give—a safe haven to those searching for it.

Works Cited

Allen, Fulton. “Meat Shakin’ Woman.” By Fulton Allen. 1938.

Bogan, Lucille. “B.D. Woman’s Blues.” By Lucille Bogan. 1935.

Bogan, Lucille. “Shave ‘Em Dry.” By Lucille Bogan. 1935.

Desdoumes, Mamie. “Walking the Street.” By Mamie Desdoumes. 1937.

Humphrey, Mark. “Urban Blues.” Nothing But the Blues. Ed. Lawrence Cohn. New York: Abbeville Group, n.d. 153. Print.

Johnson, Lonnie. “You Can’t Buy Love.” 1952.

Johnson, Robert. “Traveling Riverside Blues.” By Robert Johnson. 1937.