From the moment I was born, music has been a big part of my life, having grown up surrounded by four musical older siblings. When I was a baby and toddler, my older brother would hold me on his lap at the piano, and we’d make “music” together, his hands over or next to mine. I love seeing pictures of us at the piano together; how much we both enjoyed it is so evident on our faces.
As I got older, music continued to shape my life. At age six, I joined the homeschool music ensembles my older siblings had all been in. I was a part of a band, an orchestra, and a choir. During my time there, my love for playing music was born, and I will forever be grateful that I got the opportunity to participate in those ensembles. There, I was introduced to the pleasures—and difficulties—of really working hard on my music. I admit, there were stretches of time when I would practice infrequently, losing interest after 15 minutes or so. I had always liked to listen to music, and to a certain extent to make music, but I never really worked hard. It just wasn’t that important to me.
I’m not sure when the transition came, but it definitely happened, even if it was gradual. I started finding myself practicing for longer amounts of time—because I wanted to. I’d find myself holding my violin with love instead of indifference. I started dreaming of making music that sounded truly beautiful.
During this time, my lifelong passion for writing and speaking developed further. Lovingly dubbed “Talky Tova” by my grandfather, I’d always been talkative and loved words. I would constantly tell stories, which people never had time to hear, or ask questions, or just ramble on and on about nothing in particular. I treasured words, and I thought I could never need anything more than them to communicate. It never occurred to me that sometimes I might not be able to find the right words. Words were always just…there. I loved music as a fun activity, but never as a way to express myself or communicate. That, I felt, was for words.
Soon, however, I started to play my music in a way that reflected my emotions more. The same song could sound sad one day and joyous another, depending on my mood. I’d play random songs I knew by heart that reflected how I felt. And perhaps more importantly, music became a way I’d process things—in other words, it became a language I’d speak to myself.
While playing violin, flute, trombone, piano, makeshift drums—really, anything that could make music—I’d start thinking about my own interests, feelings, and what was important to me. This is not to say that I was thinking about these things when I should have been thinking about the music (although I’m definitely guilty of having done that at times). In fact, these things would and still do come to mind more often when I am the most intent on my music.
Still, I only used music to express myself, never really to try to “speak” to listeners. I never really felt like I needed to. I loved (and still do love) words, and I loved talking. I’d think in words, often picturing them written out in my mind along with my thoughts. Music became more natural and reflected myself more, but it wasn’t much of a language.
Until it was one. This transition is still taking place, and I am aware of that fact. I now sincerely try to make my music speak to the listeners, using phrasing and other musical techniques, and try to pour my soul into the music I make. After playing music where I really make my emotions heard, I always feel much more peaceful. It’s like I’ve just held a therapy session with myself and my instruments. Unwinding is very hard in these stressful times, but music is one of the most effective ways for me to relax and take my mind off everything for a bit.
When I play with other people, it magnifies that quite a bit. I found my best music-making often happens when in a group setting, working side-by-side with my friends. And then it really is like a conversation, like I’m talking to the rest of my ensemble. I cannot overstate how much joy I get from being in a musical ensemble, whether it’s a duet, or a large orchestra, or anything in between. I love being in a jazz ensemble, I love being in an orchestra, I love playing along with a piano accompaniment played by a cooperative sibling, I love playing small-group music with a couple of friends, I love playing Klezmer music, I love singing songs from musicals with my family. I love making music with others more than I love making music by myself.
To me, music truly is a language. It is a language I speak to myself and it is a language I speak to others. It is the most universal language in existence. If I can make my flute cry, people will feel it, no matter what language they speak. If I can make my violin laugh, people will hear it, no matter where they come from. Music is a way that people—no matter who they are or where they are from—can come together. I hope someday I will find myself able to really use music as words, and even use words like music—to make people really feel things. Because even if words and music are very different, the feelings are the same.
Accompanying Photo: Private Lesson Courtesy of Fruma Taub and Tova Weiss
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