I grew up without musicians in my family, but my family loved listening to music. I got a lot of exposure to classic rock and roll, funk, ballads and power ballads, RnB, and some jazz and blues. That’s where I started planting my tree of musical preference. I watered it with contemporary pop as a kid, and then from those branches, I began throwing pop punk and contemporary hip-hop and RnB. I had all these things influencing my taste in music, slowly shaping what I thought music could be and do. I began to notice how much I loved when I could feel it and when it could elicit from me any emotion that wasn’t anger. I loved when it made me feel happy because it could make me feel happier, and I loved when it made me sad because it reminded me that I wasn’t always happy. I loved when it made me feel resolute and adventurous and ecstatic and mellow and content and melancholy and everything else in between. (Just not anger. I reserve silence for anger.)
I listened to all these things, but since I had no one in my family who was a musician, I could really only understand it through a one-way lens. Until I started playing the guitar. And then it came became a new language I could speak. I couldn’t communicate with music before; I could only listen. And with each song I learned on the guitar, I learned more and more words in this new language. And soon I began to develop an understanding of theory followed then by a sense of feel. It took a long time to get here, but it feels like the blink of an eye. Yesterday I couldn’t play a thing, and today I can. I can have a conversation in music now. If we’re keeping the analogy going, I’m not fluent. I’m like a high school freshman in honors English. I know what works and what doesn’t, but I’m still grasping why. But it’s no longer imbalanced. It’s a reciprocal relationship.
And today, I heard a song I had not heard in at least six years. I know this because six years ago, I stopped using my iTunes library and began using Spotify. But my iTunes library was unnecessarily extensive and large. I used shuffle most of the time, and I had over ten thousand songs. So it’s likely I haven’t heard this song since long before six years ago. Additionally, I did not start playing guitar until ten years ago. This means that for most of my adult life, I only had a one-way relationship with music, and I only had a two-way relationship with my iTunes library for four years. I still listen to a good deal of my favorite songs from iTunes on Spotify, but I know for certain that I didn’t port everything (revisiting my library is on my list of Things I’ll Need A Lot of Time For (Emotionally)).
Finally, we arrive at the song I haven’t heard in a very long time. “Aruarian Dance” by Nujabes. When I first heard about Nujabes in high school, I used Limewire to download everything he had available. And immediately, I clung to “Aruarian Dance.” I heard it and I couldn’t stop hearing it. Back then, it was what peace sounded like to me.
And I heard it again for the first time today. Not because I don’t love it anymore but because there were always other songs I loved too. Sometimes things fall by the wayside, and it’s no one’s fault. But who I was when I heard it last and who I am today are vastly different people. At the core, I’m still the same. I try to do the right thing and I try to do it as well I have the ability to. So much is different though. I will not talk about those things now. The only important difference is that now I understand what I’m listening to more often than not. In “Aruarian Dance” I can hear the major sevenths and dominant sevenths and sharp fifths now. I can hear the family of notes that decorate this piece. I can hear the effects on the percussion and on the guitar and the reason the strings work so well, and it’s just so strange to me because I heard all these notes before but I’m hearing them so differently now. They’re speaking in a language I can now understand.
I imagine it’s like hearing a song in another language. There’s this older song. “La Vie en Rose.” Originally sung in French by Edith Piaf, it’s a zeitgeist in form and function. To hear this song first never knowing French and then to come back to it after learning the language is what this feels like.
It’s really an incredible thing to have this well of music I know I haven’t heard in a long time and to revisit them with more trained ears. I already can’t wait to go home and sit down with this song and talk.