Wednesday, March 30, 2011
I'll never forget the first time I heard "What I Wouldn't Give." I thought it was so masterly in the use of language -- breaking down what have become cliches and building them back up into a seamless whole of light-hearted regret. "Light-hearted regret" is the best way to describe the overall sense of the song. I mean, it is about regret, but not really about heartache; there is no real bitterness there. And the music is so sprightly and catchy, you cannot feel bad, no matter what the lyrics say. For years I wondered about this song. What did it mean? Where did it come from? How could Carolyn write a humorous treatment of lost love when she was so obviously deliriously happy in her marriage. And,what in the world did Mark think about this?
Of course, I found out later that the "love angle" was contrived to make the song readily accessible in the mind of the listener and that the real inspiration for the lyrics were Carolyn's college years -- her light-hearted regret that she spent so much time sneaking off into the music rooms and playing and writing songs, rather than fully absorbing the content of her courses. Ah, now the lack of bitterness makes sense: Can she really regret her topsy-turvy university priorities? I cannot think that she can; but she can think that she can; and so we get this song -- the most playful, rueful song about missed opportunities ever written.
So, I am a words girl and not a music girl. Seven years of taking piano lessons and filling in endless books of music theory did little to inspire me toward a broad understanding of music. I even got conned into taking a music course my freshman year of college and hated it with purple passion. Lass mich allein! I am an English major! Back to "Bartleby the Scrivener" for me!
Twelve years ago, after I had just lost my mother to cancer, my dad gave me a guitar. I had apparently once expressed a fleeting wish that I could play guitar like Amy Grant; so, my dad seized upon that whimsy and bartered with an old hippie who ran the local music store a hearing aid (my dad was an audiologist) for a lovely acoustic instrument. My dad is the type of dad who does things like this. I am so blessed to have him.
My dad is also the sort of person who sees music as one of life's greatest gifts -- able to be exactly what you need at specifically the right time. He instinctively thought, I am sure, that my great grief over losing my mom would be assuaged a bit by bringing music into my life. And by music, I mean the active creation of music, rather than the more passive (though still valuable) experience of listening. I thanked him for the instrument, strummed a few times, sighed, and put it away.
Over the ensuing twelve years, I would occasionally bring out my guitar, try to tune it, break some strings, scream, and shove it back into the closet. Two years ago, while I was cleaning out the same in preparation for a garage sale, I threw the guitar into the OUT pile. My husband, bless him, took it out and put it back into the closet. "You're not getting rid of your guitar," he announced.
"I'm never going to learn how to play it," I countered, the holy fire of spring cleaning burning in my eyes. "Every time I try to tune it, I break a string, and that scares me to death."
"You're not getting rid of it," he repeated in a tone that brooks no contradiction. I meekly let it stay.
Fast forward to January 2011. I am the pre-K-K worship leader at church. Ask me not how I fell into this mare's nest of talent incompatibility. I sing (occasionally on key) and dance around like a monkey with the children to music on a CD player. Here's the trouble: I am an alto of epic distortions. Think Ashley Cleveland with a cigarette habit. And most CDs of kids' songs are registered in an incredibly high, piping pitch. And it is almost impossible for me to sing in my own register while hearing wiry sopranos all around. So I squeak and crack like an old rusty chair, and the kids shudder in revulsion. I dance even harder like a monkey to distract them. All in all, it's a losing proposition. But, nobody else will take this worship gig. Oy.
So, think I, what if I just learned to play some of these songs on guitar? Then, I could sing as low as I pleased, and no one could stop me. Ha! Ha! But, how, I wondered, was I to even learn how to play this mysterious stringed contraption?
I went on-line and found a music school (4/4 School of Music) that offered a roster of classes in a wide variety of instruments. Deciding that it was time to introduce Sadie to the rigors of piano lessons ("I don't wanna take piano, Mom!") and longing to learn some guitar, I signed us up for concurrent lessons with two different teachers. She got Ms. Marks. I got Isaac. Let me tell you: We sat ourselves down in a warm tub of butter.
Says Sadie now: "I love piano, Mom! When do I get to go see Ms. Marks again?" Say I: "I love guitar. Thank you, Isaac." And this gets me to the whole reason I felt moved to sit and write this meandering post today. I have recently finally begun to understand what more musically-inclined people have always known: Carolyn's songs have beautiful bones. The muscle and meat may be her astounding lyrics. The supple skin may be her pleasant voice. But, strip those away, and her songs are lovely right down to their strong, structured skeletons. I know this now, because Isaac and I have been dissecting "I Can Hear You." And it is beautiful.
Even Isaac (who is a truly remarkable, dedicated teacher and one from whom you ought to take lessons should you ever find yourself in need of drum or guitar instruction in the greater Bellevue/Renton region of Washington), whose musical tastes, from what I can gather, run more toward Pink Floyd and not so much the arena of folkie Christian pop really likes "I Can Hear You." He said, and I quote, "This is a really good song. Thank you for introducing me to it." Hey, man, no prob. Introducing people to Carolyn's music is what I do.
Anyway, a big and unexpected boon in trying to learn this song is the backing track I was able to get from Feed the Lake. Unlike most of the backing tracks (or, at least the one I got for "Not a Tame Lion"), the one for "I Can Hear You" is only the music, no background vocals. So, I can really hear the chords that Isaac has me working on. It is such a help. Of course, I still sing along, but now my lyrics are: D-and-D-and-D-and-D-and-D-and-D-and-D-and-D-and-D-and-D-and-switch to G-and-G-and-G-and-G-and-G-D riff-D riff-D riff-and-back to D . . . etc." Helps me remember when it's just me and my class notes and my beloved guitar alone at night in the living room. Helps me gain some confidence.
Have you printed up the Love Was Here First Songbook from the LWHF CD? I just did. More beautiful bones to discover. I can hardly wait!
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
But, it got me searching the Internet to try to find good pics of the Mighty C's hands. Not easy, I tell ya. Then, I realized that the best picture I've seen of her fully extended hand is on this very site, to your right.
So, what do you think? They seem longish to me, but not overly long. Of course, that's her strumming and picking hand; but, I'm assuming the chord-fingering one roughly matches.