The Musical Life

If you glance up at my tagline, you will see that I call myself a “rusty musician.” Most days, it’s fair to emphasize on “rusty,” while others, I can still feel the wheels of “musician” churning inside of me.

And it was the latter that made me want Black Dust to exist in the world in which I placed it. They say “write what you know,” and while I believe that is, by far, some of the worst writing advice to ever exist, there is a sliver of truth to it. My rustiness made the concept of knowing more cloudy than I realized, and so it became again, “write what you want to know,” just like it was for Chef’s Table. And that is a piece of advice I can stand by.

record albumsI grew up in a home filled with music. If it wasn’t a record player spinning (oh god, I’m about to age myself) James Taylor and Carole King, The Beatles and Neil Diamond, it was my mother sitting in the back bedroom of our house playing those same songs on the piano. Songs from church, from the radio, from Mom and Dad’s youth, and from Broadway. Dad sang along in his beautiful, rich baritone. I loved singing along, learning the words. When I got older and was left home alone after school, I would make a stage of our eat-in kitchen and its enormous picture window and put on shows with neighbors and babysitters alike. “You be Donny; I’m Marie,” or “You can be Tony; I’m Dawn. Both of them.”

I took piano lessons. I hated them. I picked up the trumpet in fifth grade. That, I loved. I sang in choirs, at church, eventually in community groups and of course, went to college to major in music. Not performance, mind, because that would be irresponsible. “You need to have something to fall back on,” I was told.

Problem was, teaching music didn’t fit for me. Had I been totally honest with myself in college, music as a career wasn’t a good fit. It would have been better left as a hobby. And so, after an attempt at this and that, and up and then a down, I walked away from any sort of music-as-profession. And, outside of glorious shower concerts to an audience of one and passionate performances in my car, my musical life has… well, rusted.

I’m telling you this to say that writing this book, while an absolute bear for reasons that had nothing to do with music, was an utter joy in that I got to play in that world again. I pulled up classical music that I had to listen to in college—and often only moderately enjoyed. But now, without the weight of a massive music history listening exam on my shoulders, I could hear the intricacies of sound, the words that danced upon the notes. I got to dig into old Broadway shows and remember the sounds that preceded today’s Hamilton‘s rap. (Please tell me you are as obsessed with that show as me and my family are.)

And most enjoyable was digging through choral music, the music I sang, the music I taught for a short time, the music that, when performing, made me feel like I could fly. Remembering choral sheet musicthose unexpected intervals that made rehearsals such a drag because my god our ears and voices would not cooperate and make it right. You’ll see those in Black Dust because for this author, they were my favorite times.

I hope my love of music and my reintroduction to the stylings outside of what’s popular today—without forgetting those as well, because even the most trained chef occasionally likes a big old bucket of KFC—connect with you as readers. It was a fond journey, and my playlist has benefitted from it.

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