I love music. It has been an important part of my life as long as I can remember. Maybe I shouldn’t admit it, but singing along to Broadway musicals with my family on long road trips is one of my fondest memories (yes, I do have most of Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera memorized). I played baritone horn in jr. high and most of high school. I even posed as a tuba player for a while in marching band (once they figured out I didn’t have the chops to actually march and produce enough air to play the instrument at the same time I was given the largest bass drum to carry instead—joy). I remember sitting in AP Music Theory my junior year. The class met 7th period, or just after the regular school day completed. It was here you could find the band geek mafia at its finest. I had one small problem. I also played football, which practiced after school as well. Transposing music and training one’s ear was never too comfortable while wearing football pants. The butt pad wasn’t exactly created for sitting in wooden chairs. My classmates couldn’t have enjoyed it either. I would head to the class after already being on the field for an hour—my stench had to be wonderful.
As my brass instrument career came to an end, punk music became my musical vice. Whenever my mom came to our performances she would comment that I looked angry when I sang. Well mom, I was angry, all of us were. There is nothing quite like the fury found in the depths of five boys full of pubescent angst and confusion. I sang lyrics like, “Will I be a CEO or welfare trash and will I be happy as either one?” and “The white house is a day care, the Kremlin just the same. Parliament and congress are just children playing games.” Sure, I had plenty of questions about the future, but had no idea about what it really meant to be on welfare or to have the responsibility of a CEO. And it seemed perfectly normal to be angry with the government. I mean all the bands we looked up to were, so shouldn’t we be as well? Slamming the executive office of Russia only seemed natural.
When the punk days came to a close (although, my current playlist would lead one to believe the phase never completely ended), I purchased my first guitar. After setting down the baritone horn, I never anticipated playing another instrument. Practicing instruments had always been tedious and something I didn’t enjoy. Volunteering to start again seemed ludicrous. But there was something freeing about sitting alone with an acoustic guitar. It didn’t feel like work. Here in Malawi I have been blessed with beautiful surroundings and a good amount of time alone with my guitar. I have learned to cherish these times and have realized they supply the perfect opportunity to reflect and decompress.
It is indeed a gift to be able to enjoy music. One need not have perfect pitch or impeccable rhythm to find pleasure in a good song (in fact, it could be argued that the two aforementioned qualities could be a determent to finding joy in music).
Malawians are musical people. From the moment we arrived we have been surrounded by song and dance. Much of the music is different but some is similar, providing a small glimpse of what we are used to back home. Just a week after being here, my new friend Amos showed up asking for some music books that a mutual friend said we would be bringing. Unfortunately, we couldn’t fit them in our luggage (fear not, they will be here in a month!). Amos just had to move for a job, but for the last month or so we spent a lot of time playing music together. I will miss seeing him weekly, but plan on visiting him soon.
One of the more painful parts of being a pseudo-musician and being here is the Malawian tendency to play everything at ridiculously loud volumes. When we walk to church we often hear the praise teams music from a few blocks away. I feel like I have become an old man, complaining about the garage band down the street. Because of this, feedback often interrupts church services. Yesterday the service was delayed about 20 minutes because the P.A. system had not yet been set up. While I was waiting to begin the liturgy, the choir director began a rehearsal of sorts—with the entire congregation. I sat up in my seat behind the lectern and couldn’t help to smile and sing along. Before long I was called down to sing with a choir. We sang Great is Thy Faithfulness and when we finished, the choir director said I was now an official member. Yes, at 29, I am now a member of The Senior Citizens Choir of Lingadzi C.C.A.P.