Wednesday, January 06, 2010
These Friends, My Songs
Before most gigs, I write up a set list. Even though I inevitably rearrange the order of songs when I’m onstage, adding some and subtracting others, I find that the timely creation of a set list centers and calms me, giving me a sense of competence and purpose and soothing my pre-show nerves.
As I type up the lists of familiar song-titles, it occurs to me that I have come to think of these songs as friends, of a sort. Each song name carries with it a set of associations: experiences we have shared, places we have been.
Like human friends, each song has its own unique characteristics: things I love about it and traits that sometimes pose a challenge. As the years go by and I spend more time with each song in turn (each performance not unlike a shared cup of coffee) I get to know it better, and my appreciation and understanding of it deepens—unless, of course, we ultimately decide that we just don’t get along and we part ways.
These friends, my songs, hang around in groups. Certain ones stick together on set lists from year to year, complementing each other in particular ways. Sometimes one seems to introduce me to another, or to a whole new bunch. Other songs are loners. I might never write another one like it, and as a result it holds a special place in my life.
As a child, I liked to write lists: my favourite books, records, foods…lists of names for future children and pets…and lists of friends. I identified “best” friends, and as I look at my set lists now, certain ones do stand out as favourites. On the other hand, as an adult I now recognize that each friend plays a special and unique role in my life, so ranking them seem unnecessary. Anne helps me understand marriage and family. Rachel always makes me laugh. When I need peace and comfort, I turn to Mary.
I feel especially close to the songs I’ve known during the decade or so I’ve been singing professionally. Other songs existed before that, but they’re like childhood friends and I’m in touch with only a few of them now. Once in awhile, a forgotten song turns up unexpectedly. A page of lyric falls out of a file folder, like a grade school buddy saying hello on Facebook.
But new friends, they’re the most exciting. The heady rush of discovering a new song feels just like the jump-start of any new relationship. With a new song, you get the kind of excitement you’d get with a new love affair, but without all the messy complications. Plus, songs cannot get jealous of each other. In the set list of life, there’s always room for more.
As I try to balance the many responsibilities of my life, I often feel that I’m not attending adequately to all my human friends. I feel that way about songs at times too—that I'm neglecting them. I’m aware that my semi-regular performing schedule allows some of us to get together only a few times a year.
When I feel this way, the best antidote is a long, private music session in which I play all the songs I know…inviting in as many as I can think of. Reacquainting myself with each of them, I feel reconnected to myself—the stories, settings and observations that make life so rich.
So I gather these friends around me as often as I can, knowing that they won’t always be with me or (more accurately) me with them. They entertain me, give me courage, reflect my deepest feelings, lift me up when I’m down. I am grateful that at times they do the same things for other people. But even when I am the only person they keep company, these friends, my songs, serve me well.