Some Thoughts During Advent.

I sat in the back row of a Presbyterian Church, thinking about all the things I needed to do: grade, read drafts of newspaper stories that should’ve been finalized four days ago, plan lessons for the week, holiday baking, practicing the piano. It’s not that I resented being at the church, or performing, or even sitting for an hour and a half listening to Christmas music, but I started to wonder why I was there.

Why do I listen to music? Why take time from my work, my life, my leisure time to sit in a church sanctuary and listen to a bell choir play Christmas carols and choirs sing praises? What drives this group of people from all different faiths to sit and listen?

My shoulders hurt, my eyes are heavy–I’m in pain and yet I’m sitting there looking for something, trying to feel anything to ease my harried mind and body.

I have worries, though Jesus tells me not to worry. He tells me to “cast my burden upon him” and he shall sustain me. But I don’t feel sustained, so I sat there, begging for spiritual sustenance to work its way into my heart.

By the third song, I remember why I am there: God’s word and the story of Jesus’ birth and the music that accompanies that story lifts me. I let myself fall into the comfort of carols, and I remember that, at least for an hour and a half, everything else can wait.

My shoulders still hurt, and though exhausted, I still have so much work to do. I’d planned on doing that work after the concert. But now I’m writing, in last year’s Christmas PJ’s, by the light of my Christmas tree. I’m warm for the first time in hours, and I remember that I will have time tomorrow to complete the work that, three hours ago, I was convinced had to be done tonight, regardless of how late it might take. I remember that sometimes, sleep is more important.

Why do I listen to music? Take time from my work, my life, my leisure to listen or perform? Because it reminds me that there is more to me–to everyone–than work and life and leisure. The sheer number of people that this non-huggy person hugged tonight is a testament that music somehow links our souls in ways we might not be able to explain.

So I will listen to more music this week, this stress-filled week that on paper makes me want to curl up in a ball and disappear, and hope it brings me the peace and energy I need.

Breaks.

A friend posted an invitation to a unique 10-day challenge: taking purposeful breaks. I’m not sure I really need to take breaks right now–I’m basically on a 10-week break from school anyway. But I do still create structure and routine in my day, and purposeful breaks could actually help with that structure and routine.

Today’s break was to daydream. To be honest, this break terrified me, because whenever I have been instructed in my yoga practice to meditate, I usually end up with a panic attack. I can’t shut off my brain, nor can I trust it to not have a complete meltdown. But challenges are supposed to, well, challenge us, right?

So I pulled the blinds of my balcony sliding door wide open, sat in my office chair and stared outside. At first, it was uncomfortable and it took me a while to lasso the voices in my head. But then I noticed something: the trees looked like they were conducting music.

It’s a hot and windy day here on the prairie, and in the 10 minutes of daydream time, I noticed four distinct wind gusts, each causing the trees to move in a distinct rhythm.

Gust #1 was flowy and lush, timed to the rhythm of George Gershwin’s “Lullaby for Strings”–my most favorite piece of music of any genre.

Gust #2 was a smooth with a lilt, reminding me of Allison Krauss’ bluegrass work.

Gust #3 was violent, and the trees shifted from a back and forth sway to up and down movements, reminding me of the mosh pits of my youth, listening to Nirvana.

Gust #4 returned to a more serene rhythm, in almost perfect 3/4 time set to the “Waltz of the Flowers” from The Nutcracker.

In between the gusts of wind, I thought about how music has been such an important part of my life. I flipped back in my memory to walking across BYU’s campus with my Walkman and Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” or the soundtrack from “Pretty in Pink.” I listened to every song in order, I listened to full albums. I hardly ever listen to full albums anymore.

My daydream time today reminded me of all the music I own and I craved a return to listening to music before Spotify and Pandora and Genius playlists.

I don’t know if listening to full albums will end up changing my life, but I rather enjoyed staring out the window, watching trees conduct music. I will have to do that more often.

180.

Prompt: Tell us about a time you did a 180–changed your views on something, reversed a decision, or acted in a way you ordinarily don’t.

I spent most of 8th and 9th grade listening to Guns ‘n Roses, Warrant, Cinderella, you know, all the hair bands of the 1980s.

By 10th grade I graduated to Depeche Mode, The Cure, REM, U2, The Smiths.

Pop music was always on my radar, but it wasn’t ever a real priority. And country music? Please. I heard enough of that when my dad worked in the garage–Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings–to know it was not for me.

And then after 10th grade, we moved to Montana.

Many of my preconceived notions about Montana turned out to be false. They had indoor plumbing, for example, and I never did risk hitting a buffalo on my way to school. But one stereotype seemed accurate: when it came to radio stations, I felt smothered by country music.

Initially, I just dug in my heels even more, adding They Might Be Giants and Oingo Boingo to the rotation of cassette tapes in my K Car. But eventually, country started seeping in the doorjambs, and I didn’t entirely hate it.

In fact, I started to really like it.

Up to that point, my musical preferences were limited: my trusted New Wave/Alternative genre, and classical (I was going to be a classical pianist, after all). But listening to country expanded my definition of music, and soon, instead of clutching my cassettes, I started scanning the airwaves as I drove through Great Falls. It’s how I discovered jazz, driving home on Saturday nights from my boyfriend’s house to the other side of town where the Air Force base was. It’s how I rediscovered my love for Madonna, on the Top 40 station. It’s how I learned to appreciate the storytelling of The Judds and George Strait.

And today, when I look through my iPhone and I see the variety of music I truly enjoy, I’m so glad I did a 180 on only listening to one genre of music.

Music.

Every now and then, my friend A.J. picks a Christmas song with a four-hand accompaniment for his choir, and he asks me to play two of the hands. I hate to admit, but some years, I triage my part. I make sure the parts where I can be heard clearly are really good, but everything else is hit-or-miss.

This year, I’ve dedicated more time to practicing than ever before, and I’m feeling really good about this year’s song. Tonight I ran up to school at 5:45 to run through the 3-minute song twice. Well worth the trip, as it gave me a chance to see how playing with the singers would mess me up (because they always do) and get a sense of the tempo I need to be practicing at.

I’m grateful for all kinds of music–the kind I play on the piano, the kind I sing, the kind I listen to. I often underestimate the power of music in my life. I need to be more grateful for it more often.