‘I have always been able to turn to music’

Evergreen columnist writes about playing guitar, translation of his emotions



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I picked up the acoustic guitar after my freshman year of high school with the goal to start a band with a couple of friends. Although that did not happen, I have continued to play since then.

I bought a guitar music book with simplified melodies of popular songs. One of these songs was “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from the original Lion King movie by Elton John.

It was around this time that my grandma was diagnosed with dementia. It was an extremely tough time for me, and I turned to music to help console me. I was able to play guitar for her before she died and seeing her reaction was one of the proudest moments of my life. I will never forget how to play that song or how I felt at that moment.

Bringing my guitar into her living complex and receiving compliments from other building residents compelled me to play the best that I could. Seeing the pride on her face as I was playing for her will stick with me forever. Her repeated request to “play it again” filled me with gratitude. This experience was a real confidence booster as a novice guitar player and gave me the motivation that I still tap into when I get stuck on a song or guitar solo.

“Can You Feel the Love Tonight” was the only song I could really play at the time, but watching the Lion King at her house when I was younger made this song extra special to play for my grandma. I have very fond memories of spending the night at her house with my sister and watching Disney movies.

Her room in the living facility was overlooking a beautiful tree that was shedding orange and brown leaves as the fall season rolled in. The piles of leaves on the ground would scatter as the cool wind blew through the courtyard. The sentiment of the song matched with the scenery was a very powerful experience for me. Fall has always been a really sentimental time for me, as the leaves change colors it seems to be a natural time to reminisce. The song is also very nostalgic and bittersweet, the combination of the season and song choice seemed to be destiny.

That song has stuck with me since then and when I hear it play on the radio, it’s a bittersweet feeling. Like many people, I often associate music with people and memories and playing guitar for my grandma has been the most vivid of these associations.

I find inspiration through lyrics and music. Bruce Springsteen has written music that has been relevant to my life. In the song “No Surrender” he sings, “We learned more from a three-minute record than we ever learned in school.” This is a deeply personal lyric to me because I have found meaning in music to push through strife and use it as inspiration to be the best version of myself.

This song is only one example; I turn to countless songs when I’m feeling certain ways. Country songs are always fun to listen to during a long drive during the summer and songs by James Taylor can be listened to when you are feeling introspective.

However, the associations between guitar playing, music and memories have not always been negative. During the summer of my sophomore year, my best friends and I listened to Van Halen on repeat for three months straight, and I learned to play “Panama” and “Dance the Night Away” to honor the memories I have made with my friends.

 The COVID-19 pandemic caused the last half of my senior year in high school to be canceled. I was devastated.

I had worked through 12 years of school, so I could walk across the stage to receive my diploma and that did not happen. Along with the graduation ceremony, prom was canceled and so were the two concerts I had tickets for.

It was a low point in my life and once again, I turned to music to help compartmentalize my emotions.

The song “Heart of Life” by John Mayer was the song that resonated with me the most. The lyrics about how life is not always fair but will always turn out well held a lot of meaning to me then.

I  learned the song on my guitar around the time my high school graduation ceremony would have occurred. The combination of the tricky fingerstyle rhythm matched with the percussive slap on the strings using my left hand made this song quite the task to master. However, the end result was a beautiful arrangement and the hard work paid off in the end.

I saw this as a metaphor for my situation in life; it is not easy, but it will turn out if I can power through the challenges. 

Being able to translate my emotions by playing the guitar is very gratifying. Playing up-tempo music along with more somber styles is helpful in memory processing.

Music has always been such a big part of my life since I was a little kid. From driving to baseball practices with my dad to hanging out with friends and even working through tough moments in my life — I have always been able to turn to music.