September 17, 2008

Don't Worry, Be Happy

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I want you to stop for a second and think about music. What does it mean to you? When do you listen to it? When do you play it? What do you use it for? This might be, if you’re really thinking about it, an enormous list. We use music to celebrate, to mourn, to get together and PAR-TAY, to reflect a huge range of emotions, to calm us down, to pump us up, for the simple beauty of sound.
At Cornell, we use music for studying. A lot. Finding the perfect music to study with is an exact science that rivals that of mechanical engineering, or sociology. (Huh?). It has to be calm, but not so much so that it puts you to sleep. Since it has to perform this vital keeping-awake function it must also be a bit upbeat, but not so much so that it makes you sing along and stop doing work. There is a delicate balance.
I have recently happened upon some super study music. Of course, my tastes in study music (actually, most music) are probably different from the good majority of Cornellians’ but I’m going to recommend it to y’all nevertheless.
So, my particular study music medium is, the “new kind of radio.” My “radio station” is Hem radio. My roommate introduced me to Hem, whose music is soulful and pretty and so nice to listen to. Hem radio therefore is mostly similar folk-sy female singers, with some of my fall-back indie artists as well. It cycles through maybe 100 songs from around 20 artists, which is great because I’m getting to know the music, without feeling like its uber-repetitive.
I have three favorite songs from this bunch at the moment. “Half Acre” by Hem, “I Believe in Love” by Indigo Girls and “City Hall” by Vienna Teng. The Indigo Girls and Vienna Teng songs are more lively than the Hem song, but all three have a wonderful, pretty style that I am apparently a total sucker for. And I love the lyrics (none of that “I wanna make love in this club” anywhere to be found).
All three artists make pretty extensive use of piano and acoustic guitar, which besides being lovely, is a killer study combination. Unexpectedly, this musical genre awoke in me a desire to actually make my own music. My boyfriend has been trying to get me to do this for years, and so I think over winter break we’re going to give it a try: acoustic guitar (him) and piano (me). Look for us in stores soon — I’ll be the one who’s really only pretending to know what she’s doing. The few male-and-female-vocals tracks on “Hem radio” are gorgeous, very balanced, joyful and, yes, pretty. “Half Acre” is actually one of them, and Nickel Creek, a male artist, probably comes in fourth on my list of songs with “Doubting Thomas.”
Music-making is a deeply creative process (most of the time — “Toxic” doesn’t count, I’m pretty sure), and a spontaneous one. I’m assuming this, having never yet tried it myself. Though in middle school, my friend and I did write some touching lyrics about Star Dreamer and Moonshine, estranged Native American lovers. Record execs have been banging down my door to get a hold of them, but we’re holding out for a mansion with an indoor hot tub and adjacent Taco Bell.
This weekend I was in Montreal visiting my boyfriend, who attends McGill University — he would like me to say “the best school in Canada” here. Saturday evening, he and his roommates hosted a small shindig at their apartment (which is, by the way in the unofficial “gay” district). There are posters of naked men in many of the shop windows and his apartment is painted in bright yellow, orange, green and pink. It’s actually pretty awesome.
Anyway, many of his friends are also musicians (my boyfriend being pretty much obsessed, and a music minor) and at one point they picked up two acoustic guitars, a banjo, tambourine, congas and a cowbell, and jammed for nearly an hour, with one singing random words about stuff catching on fire.
It was neat — mostly because I couldn’t have done it — but all the same so cool (note please that I probably could have handled the cowbell). It was very free-flowing, and joyful: just a bunch of friends, having some beers and making some music, while the rest of us tapped our toes or bobbed our heads. I think I was actually doing both.
Essentially, I wanted to be one of the cool kids, joining in. Let me in! Let me in!
Pretty music, like Vienna Teng, Hem, Camera Obscura and Mary Chapin Carpenter, simply put, makes me happy; which is why it works so well for studying, and why it makes me want to be a part of it, to make my own joy. Yes, music is used for many things, but perhaps my favorite use is for making me happy.
Until next time.