Diamond and Rough

The patterns of how I listen to music are a little strange, I’ll admit. I can go a year without ever feeling the urge to regularly play anything less than upbeat except in very specific circumstances (meditation, a writing playlist associated with a story, etc.) and then suddenly find myself pulling out all the slower, sadder, more contemplative songs in a single rush. Part of this, I think, is that I tend to prefer happy, energetic music except when I’m in a downswing. But also, I am one of those people who strongly reflects internally what is happening around me externally — so happy, cheerful, kickass, positive music helps me create a positive feedback loop to carry me into that same mindset. So I listen to slower or sadder music far less frequently.

And yet, when I do, it never fails to have an impact on me.

A second circle in the Venn diagram that is how-Kelly-listens-to-music regards source and/or language. I have a deep and abiding fondness for songs that come from something I love, so I have a lot — A LOT — of soundtracks. Especially with vocal music, I find that I can attach very specific feelings to songs that happen during particular scenes or sung by certain characters, and they stick with me long after the shine is off the original source. A movie I wouldn’t bother sitting through for a half-decade might not speak to me, but that one song sung in that one dramatic moment can still bring me to tears.

Since I watch and enjoy a lot of anime, there is a whooooole list of wonderful songs that can evoke those kinds of emotions, but whose language I don’t understand (other than a word here or there). For those songs, I try to learn them — both to sing the Japanese correctly and to be able to recall at least the broad strokes of the translation. As I said when I wrote about the poetry of Izumi Shikibu, Japanese poetry really speaks to me, and song lyrics are no different. They may not always readily translate to English words, but the feelings are universal.

If there is a third circle in the Venn diagram, it comes down to songs I can really sing. There are lots of songs I can sing, but they don’t always work in my range. Songs sung by men in the low tenor range mean I have to sing them up the octave, and that is not always the right choice. Some women’s voices just don’t match for mine, so even if we share the range, I sound like a strangled turtle trying to put together the same notes. And there are some songs I just love, but would never really want to sing except for myself with nobody listening (see all songs about sex, for example).

One song that has spoken to me since I first heard it is “Diamond Crevasse” from Macross Frontier. It’s such a moving song, the sorrowful and loving lament of saying goodbye to someone too soon, too unexpectedly. It ends with a line which is translated as “I wish the planet would whisper to me that I’m not alone.” Since I first heard it, it seemed exactly the song to express loss and love and the loneliness that comes with grief.

In a COVID-19 world, there’s a lot of grief. Even for those who have not (yet) lost people they love to the virus, we have all lost something. We have lost hours, days, weeks with the people we love whom we cannot see in person, cannot hug, cannot console. We have lost days in the spring, birthdays, evenings of sunsets gathered around a meal. We have lost a kind of innocence, the certainty that the world works the way we predict. We have lost mental health and resources, jobs, patience, and hours of sleep.

I had been thinking for a while about starting up posting songs on YouTube again, just idly, but that idle fancy took on new life when choir rehearsals stopped. Apparently I can’t go that long without needing and wanting to sing, to share music, even if no one is listening. And singing to myself at my desk or while doing chores just didn’t fulfill the need sufficiently. So I combined my feelings about COVID-19 with the songs I wanted to put into the world, and I created this:

The words are mine, in that I interpreted the translation and rewrote it to fit the actual rhythm of the words. Japanese can, beautifully, say so much so simply, but it still does so in a lot of syllables. I had to add and stretch a lot to make the words fit in the melody correctly. But I tried to keep it as directly tied to the original as possible.

I recorded the audio in our bathroom, singing into Sarah’s laptop, which has the best microphone of the working microphones we currently have available, and then filmed the visual separately a week ago as the sun started to set on our balcony. I still think of it as “emoting off a balcony” and I’m sure it looked funny from below, but I had to do something. Just standing still and singing facing the camera didn’t do the song justice. You can’t see that I have streaks of purple and pink in my hair in the style of the character (Sheryl is sung by the artist May’n) but they were there. We took a total of four takes, and this was by far the best of them, both in terms of lighting and in terms of me not getting weird.

Also, the video doesn’t do justice to the fact that it was COLD out. My sweater (a frankensweater made by the awesome sluagh on Etsy) kept my arms warm, but the bar under my hands was ICE COLD and it did not improve as I touched it. I had goosebumps on my goosebumps, and poor Sarah, who was operating the camera, was colder still. Between tries, we had to duck inside so I could hug her a while.

But it came together, and that’s what really matters.

I have a hard time listening to myself sing — all I hear is everything I do wrong. Similarly, I can’t really speak to how I look on camera because I only see imperfections. It’s a song called “Diamond Crevasse” but it’s hard for me to think about my own performance because all I see is the rough. That’s just me and my insecurity; it doesn’t mean it’s true. And even if the whole song was rough, there is still sparkle somewhere in there, and I have to hang onto that. After all, even if I totally screwed it up (and I don’t think I did), the song itself is still beautiful in any form.

And, no matter how I feel about my looks or my sound, I know I put my heart into the song. I put all that loss and grief and missing people into it, but also the love I have for everyone I can’t be with right now. The first time I practiced it with the English words, I had to stop as my throat closed up and I found myself getting teary thinking about how many people I long to see again. Even in the last take, the one Sarah mixed into the audio, I think you can still hear when I quit being a stoic performer and started to feel what was behind the words. “Diamond Crevasse” is a song about loss, but it is a song about love first. And I sang it out of love, as well as missing all the people I miss. And that’s the only part that really matters.

I’m going to try to do more of these, and Sarah might even do some with me. Together, we’ll put together the happy songs to make people smile, or the quiet ones that reflect our feelings. Or, maybe we’ll write our own instead. Either way, we need music. And I need to put it in the world.

It’s long been my belief that we can put good into the world even if it only touches a few people, but that good is no less valuable for its small impact. The world could use every single particle of good we can give it right now, and I may not be able to serve in big ways, but I can feel a song and share it. If nothing else, I can do that much.

And maybe, if I keep singing off my balcony (or waving while emoting) I’ll be able to help someone else remember that they are not alone upon the planet…

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