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  • Writer's pictureJena Ball

My On-Again-Off Again Love Affair

“No one ever made a difference by being like everyone else.” - Hugh Jackman (TGS)

I confess that music and I have had a troubled, on-again-off-again relationship since I began piano lessons at the age of five.

My memories of those lessons are both vivid and tactile – the hard wooden bench that made my butt ache, my disobedient fingers stumbling over the keys, and the pungent smell of dog farts from my teacher’s Jack Russell terrier napping beneath the baby grand. By the time I rebelled seven years later, I’d developed a lifelong distaste for music notation, repetitious practice, and the rules governing how music is written and played.

In the years that followed, I joined a choir and discovered the joy of singing harmony. I tried out for and did a tolerable job playing a small part in a musical. I even let one of my delusional high school friends convince me to be part of a rock band he was forming. Like I said, delusional.

But the two things that put me off music for many years were the uniformly lousy lyrics in popular songs and the way that music commandeered my body. By that, I mean that certain songs triggered a visceral response that left me feeling played – literally. When this happened, it was impossible to hear my own thoughts. For a writer like me, who needs silence to think and feel, this was maddening.

And so, for many years, music and I led an uneasy co-existence. I listened and appreciated music from afar – in films, via online streaming platforms, and as background music at coffee shops – but continued to write in silence. Then three things conspired to force music and me into an uneasy alliance. First, a business I’d poured my heart and soul into for 10 years was forced to close. Second, a friend who understood my disappointment and wanted to help played me a song by David Wilcox called, “Show the Way.” If you’re unfamiliar with the song, please take a moment to listen. I’ll wait.

For the first time in a long while, I felt the music and the words in a song were aligned. Even better, the message fits with how I see and believe our lives unfold. I was hooked.

Then the third shoe dropped. A new and mysterious virus began making its inexorable way around the world leaving thousands dead and the rest of us confined to our homes. As the shutdown stretched to months, the two rooms I share with my cats began to feel like a prison. My solution was to reactivate my account in Second Life (a virtual world where people are represented and interact as avatars) and begin to attend live music performances there.

In Second Life, musicians of all kinds from around the world perform live on a daily basis. Most are also eager and willing to talk about their work. Thanks to my many and ongoing conversations with these talented folks, I came up with the idea for “Pass Along Songs” and its parent project, “Braided Lives.”

More on that story – including my first attempt at writing a theme song - in our Wednesday chat. In the meantime, please share your thoughts, stories, and any songs you feel fit with our theme for the week - daring to discover and celebrate our differences.

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