Every year I try to cross an item off my bucket list. Some years that has meant doing a particular hike, climbing all of the highest county peaks in Utah, or riding LOTOJA. This year I decided to learn the guitar. I have been practicing each night, using Hal Leonard lesson books and CDs. I have found it immensely satisfying to pick up my guitar and play a song. I’m not a great guitarist, but I can play a few chords (really, you don’t need to know more than four), pluck out a melody as long as it doesn’t have anything more complicated than an F-sharp. I’ll get better but I’m still good enough that my family knows what I’m playing.
This isn’t my first experience with music. I sang in choir in high school. I continue to sing in my department choir at work (that happens when you work for the LDS Church). When they don’t make practice too early, I even sing in my ward choir. I took up singing when I misunderstood a relative’s comment that I was the basest teenager she knew, but that’s another story).
What makes this new is that the music didn’t come FROM me as it does now. Even what I sang, with few exceptions, didn’t come out of my heart like it does when I play. It made me think about music and how it has changed. Fifty years ago an artist would write a song and release it. If it were a popular song, dozens of others might release the same song. Kaw-liga is a good example (You may not know country music, but it’s one my dad used to sing in the truck). Hank Williams wrote the song with Fred Rose. The same song was released by a dozen different artists. The first one to record and release it wasn’t even Hank Williams.
Now, we generally leave songs to the first person to release them. I think it’s because we have such easy access to Youtube, iTunes and Spotify, that we have no reason to explore the music beyond the person who first recorded it.
Going back 100 years, if you wanted to hear a song, you either played and sang it yourself, or your friends did. Edison’s phonograph was relatively expensive. My point is to show that we have gone from producing music, to consuming it. We can fill our ears nonstop for months from our iPods, but the music passes is taken in like an audio candy bar.
It reminds me of Ray Bradbury’s book Fahrenheit 451. In the novel, everyone had wall-sized TVs, but didn’t talk. We get together to play games, watch movies, or listen to music, but how many of us sit down and talk, not about current events, yelling into our echo chambers but to build worlds with words, to philosophize and even challenge our deepest beliefs. I remember waking up early and listening to relatives talk. I’d pretend to be asleep because I didn’t want to disturb the flow of conversation.
Think about what we do in the evening. Do we watch a video? Spend the night scrolling through social media posts? What about reading to one another and discussing what we read? It sounds hokey, but that was the main entertainment 150 years ago. The words we took in became part of our souls. Now we seek for constant entertainment, until we can’t produce any music because we haven’t fostered our souls enough to allow those little seeds to grow, whether it be into a song we play, a book we write, or an invention we share.
I hope that I am a producer, not just a consumer. Our souls desire to create. Don’t drown it out by filling your head so full of noise and lights that you can’t think your own thoughts.