Music to Our Ears

By , May 3, 2012

The end of the long calm spell has brought a significant and extremely pleasant change to the homestead: we’re listening to music again.

Music is an essential part of my family’s life, so much so that it never entirely disappears, it simply goes underground if the power’s low. Our stereo doesn’t draw much, but when you’re watching the solar and wind slowly claw its way to 100%, even that small draw must be avoided, if possible. When that happens, we listen to our own music on iPods and other MP3 players, which I find to be a significantly different experience than listening to music in the home.

There’s a lot of talk these days about the demise of the compact disc as personal listening devices gain dominance. For me, though, Luddite that I am, I often want to hear a set of music by a particular artist, presented in the order that artist designated. In fact, I appreciate this option so much that I’m sometimes annoyed by our cabin’s music system. The car CD/radio decks we run off 12-volt are all designed to play a disc continuously until it’s ejected—”album repeat” is the default setting. We have to be on our toes to end the work when it’s finished, or it’ll start around again, diminishing the performance experience.

Playing a discrete CD—an album, if you’ll allow this ancient, archaic phrase—is not the same as an endless stream of music played within one’s head. Sure, personal decks can play albums in correct order, but when it’s done, off it goes into something else. It’s the difference between listening to music on the radio or listening to CDs. Both have their pleasures and uses, but one cannot replace the other, at least in my life.

Listening to music in the home is a family event, whether or not all members actively participate. A disc playing in the room adds ambiance, a soundtrack, as I once referred to it. The chosen music becomes associated with the activities that take place while it’s playing, until it often evokes memories of past events the next time it’s played. This is why seasonal music is so important to me, why some music I only play at certain times of the year.

For instance, a CD I’ve long loved has a rain theme. While we can get rain here in Southeast Alaska any day of the year, I usually only listen to the disc on wet days in spring, summer, or autumn. A few days ago, when our sunny weather broke, and the rains returned, I listened to that disc for the first time since October, perhaps before. At the first notes, all the associations: softer weather, gentle rain, fish runs, fragrant trees in spring, and more came rushing to mind. It felt like heaven.

I also confess to liking a bit of volume now and then. We keep it low on our personal players, just high enough to hear through whatever else is happening around us. We don’t want to damage our hearing, and hours of earbud use is bad enough without cranking the volume up. As you may remember if you follow us on Twitter, I played Meatloaf’s Hot Summer Night on the stereo the other day, at a meaningful volume. I’m 51, but as soon as it started, I began posturing like a rock star in the living room. It seems I retain some muscle memory from when I was 17-years old, when that song was one of the most important musical compositions in my life.

As I compose this, I’m back to more sedate material, but entirely appropriate for the current herring run, Glacier Bay, bv Dennis Hysom. Everything in its season, including—or perhaps especially—music.

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