Sunday, May 24, 2009

Music can fill your soul, lead to soul mate

Jenny and Brett listen to Bill Staines perform their pre-wedding concert.

Simply Living

(first appeared in Orlando Sentinel May 25, 2009)

During the early 1980s, most children grew up on songs from Sesame Street and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. That wasn't the case in our family. Our three oldest children — all born between 1979 and 1983 — were more likely to have memorized the words to "Abiyoyo" and "The Marvelous Toy" than "Won't You Be My Neighbor?"

Tofu, brown rice and freshly picked veggies may have nourished our children's bodies, but folk music fed their imaginations. We listened to the recordings of dozens of artists, but one musician stood out from the rest — Bill Staines. We discovered this New England singer-songwriter at a Boston coffeehouse shortly after his career took off in the '70s, and it was like chancing upon a kindred spirit. His sensitive lyrics, soothing melodies and gentle presence resonated with our homegrown, country lifestyle. By the time Ralph and I were ready to start a family, Staines had already produced several albums, all of which we owned and loved.

If you had visited our much-lived-in Cape Cod home during those early years of our marriage, one of Bill Staines' recordings would probably have been playing. His music was a trellis on which our daily routine was twined. Songs such as "Bridges," "Roseville Fair," "Annie Drew" and "So Sang the River" filled the air and wound their way through our subconscious. We sang along while fixing meals, folding diapers or weeding the garden. Ralph tape-recorded the songs each child favored and, at night, they fell asleep listening to a continuous loop of their favorite tunes.

Given such a background, I was not surprised when my second-oldest child called from her home in Northampton, Mass., about six months ago to make an announcement. Jenny and her fiancé had booked Bill Staines for a private concert the night before their wedding.

"He's available," she said excitedly. "We're thinking of having the concert in a little chapel across the street from Brett's parents' house."

Brett's family lives in the village of Leyden, Mass., just south of the Vermont border, a few hours away from Staines' hometown of Dover, N.H. It turns out that Jenny and her siblings weren't the only children weaned on a diet of folksy tunes. Brett and his brother were, too.

"One of my friends knows the words to all of Bill Staines' songs just like I do," Jenny mentioned a few years ago during a phone conversation. "He grew up listening to Bill's music just like we did. Bill's performing in town this weekend, so Brett and I are going to go together to see him."

That was one of the first times Jenny mentioned Brett, but it wasn't the last. After the concert, the two friends continued to spend time together. A few months later, they finally realized that folk music was just one of many common interests. Friendship grew into love, and a wedding date was set.

Now that two of our four children have entered married life, I often think about what makes a marriage work. Marrying your best friend certainly helps, as does being kind, respectful and patient with each other. It's important to laugh and play frequently and agree on values and priorities. And don't underplay the importance of music. Music is a combination of poetry, philosophy and adventure. Songs tell us stories that transport us to places and times we could never experience otherwise. You can disappear into music — lose yourself and return, gaining energy and insight in the process.

I'm delighted to know that my daughter found a life partner who grew up appreciating the same folk artists she did. Music provides such strength and support. The simple framework of a three-minute tune can steady values, encourage dreams, broaden views and stabilize character. Having Bill Staines perform at my daughter's pre-wedding concert was a gentle way to begin a marriage — with harmony, sweet rhythms, melodic interpretations and lyrical inspiration.

Songs for today that will last a lifetime — they're the beginning steps up a ladder of love.

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