I know I have mentioned it before, but some days I am just so amazed at how much music has been woven into the very fiber of my life. A song can transport me to another time and place like nothing else can. My earliest memories of home have to do with listening to records of people like Jim Reeves and Sons of the Pioneers. I can remember waking up on Sunday mornings to the sound of the Blackwood Brothers harmonizing a gospel hymn. I still remember the words to some of those songs, though I have not heard them in over thirty years. I can remember dancing to my brother’s Carpenters album in our living room in Tukuyu, Tanzania when I was around 6. He came in and showed me how dancing was really done. We had records of nursery rhymes and children’s songs that also still find their way to the surface of my memory from time to time.
One of my favorite past-times was to sing along through our two album set of Civil War songs; one volume for the North and one for the South. I never read much of the information included about the war, but I looked at the pictures and learned the words of the songs from the pages of lyrics. The sad pining of men missing their sweethearts and singing farewells to their mothers before the battle appealed to my dramatic imagination.
We also had a copy of the Celebrate Life demo album and another called Purpose (that I thought was “propose” until my mother corrected me through gales of laughter) I imagine I had most of our record collection memorized before too many years in our Tukuyu home.
When we would go home on furlough, one of the things Dad always bought was more music. So did my older brother. From my brother I learned of the Beatles, Steely Dan, Grateful Dead, Eagles, Elton John. From my dad, Boston Pops, John Denver, Tiajuana Brass, Tchaikovsky, and various gospel groups. As my sisters grew up and started bringing home music I learned of Amy Grant, Olivia Newton John, Evie. My friend, Cynthia introduced me to Mac Davis and Terry Jacks.
It wasn’t only records and tapes that fed my love for music. My dad used to play his ukelele and sing such songs as “Down in the Valley” and “Red River Valley” My siblings played guitar and piano, and I loved to harmonize with them. My ear for harmony made me a lazy student when it came to learning an instrument. I never learned the discipline of reading notes, although mom and “Aunt” Jeanine gave it their best shot. Somewhere we acquired a collection of gospel songs that my sister and I used to work through; she at the piano, me sitting beside her on the bench. From that I learned of Dottie and Reba Rambo and Andre’ Crouch.
Added to all of this was the rich sounds of the African people with their homemade instruments and percussions. They have their own style of harmony, and rhythm, and they sing with such emotion from the very depth of their being. Some of my fondest memories are of singing along as we walked from a church meeting to a nearby body of water for baptisms. Many of the songs were European hymns that had been translated into Kiswahili or Kinyakusa. I learned their tunes long before I understood their words.
In this day of iPods and mp3 players I have the luxury of adding many of these artists to my playlist along with all the ones who have come along since. When I get in my car I plug my iPhone into my speakers and hit the shuffle button. I love to be thrown from one era to another in my life through the songs that come on. It reminds me of simpler times and people I love. Lately, most of the new songs are those that have words of hope for those going through difficult times. These are helpful, too, but I get a lot of comfort just from being reminded of the people and memories behind the songs. It is sort of an Ebenezer for me (1 Samuel 7:12); the Lord has brought me this far.
Lately I have taken to sitting on the back porch with a cup of tea and the shuffling music. A few times I have been caught dancing around out there by one of my children. They may think that I have totally lost my marbles, but I would contend that it is one of the few things that keep them safely rattling around inside my head. It gives me a momentary break from the present reality and reminds me of the fine things in life.
I can’t decide, should I end this with, “I’ll get by”, or “We have these moments”? Perhaps…I’ll get by with these musical moments I have.