Tuesday, May 25, 2010

There seems to be a problem

There seems to be a problem. It's a disconnect. Lyrics will not register in my brain. Notes, yes. Melodies, sometimes. Accompaniment, yes. Feelings swirl amid the notes and ricochet off the time signature and bounce against the treble clef sign. The words, however, those language elements, the elements that are so dear to my heart, will not stay stuck. I can look at printed lyrics and think, I have never sung this song... even if I know for a fact that I have once sung it every day for a year or more.

I hear a song on the radio. I enjoy it. I hear it again. I learn the ins and outs. I recognize the singer's voice. I hum along in harmony. I request it on the station. I purchase the cd or download the song to my ipod. The following week, we hear it together. She sings along with the singer, knowing each word. I realize that I have never, ever, thought about the words to the song, despite my obsession with it. I am amazed to hear that the topic is thus-and-so.

The song that sounds like a happy sunlit day turns out to be an ironic tale of love gone wrong. The bouncy melody that brings to mind a trip on a train in a foreign country is instead, in the stark lyrics, a nyah-nyah romp of "I told you so". Why are so many songs about loss? I'm thinking that the pop music formula must be this: make it sound one way and make it read the opposite.

On the flip side of this problem is that lyrics I learned by reading never leave my memory. We used to get the lyrics delivered to us, in a largish font size, on the liners and insides and backs of long-playing album covers. I would sit by the stereo, pouring over each word as the songs played repeatedly. Using that method, the lyrics stuck. In fact, I can picture Joni Mitchell's songs in the exact typeface that was used, and with the poetic line breaks intact. This memory must be at least 40 years old.

But when I need to learn a new song that I want to sing, the fastest way is to listen to a recording over and over. This solidifies the notes. I can listen to a recording a number of times without looking at the sheet music, and the next morning, I will awake with the song running through my head. Then I can open my mouth and sing the notes. The words however, are not necessarily there. They will follow later, delinquent and stubborn, until I read the written text enough times.

What parts of my brain are being accessed here? They say that lyrics learned will not vanish despite damage to the part of the brain that controls language. Does that same part of the brain control note memorization? Seems possible but doesn't feel the same.

In other areas of my comprehension of the world around me, my eyes do not play such a vital part. I am sure that, because I came into the world with my eyesight impaired, I never completely relied upon it to bring me the important news of perception. I rely upon my ears and my ESP, for lack of a better term, to recognize a person. I know their voice, I know their essential quality of BEING. I pick up their vibe. I scent their odor. I have been known to completely reject someone based on the pitch of their voice or the terrified smell of their sweat.

We visited a bakery every day for a year or so. The regular man behind the counter was jocular and friendly, serving us muffins and coffee. The other worker in the shop was equally young, brown-haired and slouchy, but was not always there. He would come by to clear the tables and had a jangly, plate-crashing attitude. One day, he took over at the counter and for the days that followed, made our visits there just a little less pleasant. I commented to my partner that I wished the other guy would come back. What followed was a complete shock to me - she insisted that there was only one guy that worked in the bakery. The same guy sometimes was pleasant, sometimes wasn't.. but there was only one guy. Her theory was that this one guy's vibe varied so that I distrusted the evidence that his hair and clothes were the same.

We continued to argue this point until I became convinced that my ESP had failed me. One day we came in for our muffins, and behind the counter stood TWO guys. They looked like brothers. She had to admit that I had been right all along - that the personality difference made them, to me, as different as two guys could be.

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