Music has always been an integral part of my life. My mother sang to me both before and after I was born. When I was barely old enough to walk, my paternal grandmother often sat me on her lap as she played the piano. I can remember being frustrated by the fact that when she pressed the keys, music came out, but when I pressed the keys noise came out.
I also have happy memories of me and my father singing loudly with songs on the radio, even when we didn’t know all the words. One song stands out in my memory, Jambalaya. The chorus went, “Jambalay-a, crawfish pie-a, filé gumbo” but we did not know anything about filé gumbo, so we substituted “fiddle-ee-gumball.” The words didn’t matter because we had “big fun.”
Later, music in the church shaped and defined my relationship to God. In my early teens, I wanted to sing in our small church’s choir. So, my dad went with me to make sure they would let me sing, even though his idea of singing Bass was singing the melody an octive lower. In Christian music there is very little condemnation, the vast majority embodies God’s Love, Grace, Mercy, and Hope.
So, I applied to a college to study church music to become a Music Minister. While there I was invited to join a music fraternity (Phi Mu Alpha, Sinfonia), and I sang with the most elite vocal group on campus from my first semester. And even though I left college after three years, I did become a Music Minister for a time.
Music has shaped how I see the world around me, and it has given depth and insight to my relationships with others. Making music with others is the most satisfying experience my soul can handle. And it is a perfect example of how the purposeful cooperation of individuals can come together in harmony and can create something of real beauty that is more than the sum of their individual talents.
As full as my life has been, the truth is that I have lived most of my life alone. But there was almost 16 years when I knew real love. I shared my life with a beautiful man, Roland, who was deaf, and essentially, I learned more than basic sign language so I could communicate well with him. As I fell in love with him and he began returning my affection, I also started to question my sanity. With music playing such a large role in my heart and life, how could I fall in love with someone who could not experience music, even as only a listener.
Because his deafness was profound and from birth, he knew nothing of music except for rhythm, vibration, and how I described and interpreted the words and emotional content of music. I remember once telling him about Edvard Grieg’s Pier Gynt Suite #1 a well-known folktale in Norway that he set to music, and how Grieg’s music told the story without words. It was like he painted pictures with his music that you can only see in your mind as you listen.
At that point I noticed the faintest glimmer of sadness in his eyes and realized that he was starting to understand the extent of what he was missing being deaf. Suddenly, I wished I had not told him, it was cruel of me to give him a glimpse of what he could never experience. So, I changed the subject and never went that deep into music ever again. But, I continued to interpret the vocal and emotional content of music into sign language for him.
We survived and thrived. Our love grew ever stronger with each new trial and challenge, because it is the shared experiences which become shared history and an ever-growing mutual devotion to each other that harmonizes and locks relationships together. And, he became for me the music of my life, as if the greatest composer of all time wrote the most wonderful love story ever told, and it was our story.
Love also survived through two long years of sickness and eventually through the sureness of his impending death. There was no Doctor who could tell us both in sign language that there was nothing more they could do, and that he would not live to see his next birthday or even our sixteenth anniversary. The Doctor told me, and I had to tell him because I was his interpreter. Two weeks later, he died, peacefully in the home we built together.
For nearly a year after his funeral, he would occasionally visit me in my dreams. It would be like an orchestral song of love was playing, something like Greig’s Ish Liebe Dich, and on the last crescendo, the music suddenly stopped, and I woke up. It occurred this way every time it happened. But the last time was different. He came to me in an embrace and then told me that this would be the last time he would appear to me, and that I needed to continue with my life until the day I joined him again… and he was gone. Afterward, I realized that he was not signing to me, nor was he speaking, his mouth and hands were still but the words were there, strong and clear. He never reappeared to me again.
Since then, there have been dates and even two short-term relationships, one an Interpreter for the Deaf and one a Musician, but even so, I have been essentially alone all these years. But, through it all I still carry in my heart the music a deaf man placed there.
More time has passed since he passed than all the time we were together. But, the music of his life and our lives together, ever strong, sustains me and will continue to do so until I join him once again in an ever-lasting encore.