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Faith in Vermont: The Search for a Theme Song

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Posted on February 5, 2019 | Blog Category:
By Faith Gong



Before I had children, back when I was a twenty-something elementary school teacher in New York City and had just started dating my future husband, I used to watch the quirky television sitcom Ally McBeal. Though most of that show has sunk into the mists of my past, one moment sticks with me: the episode when Ally’s therapist tells her to pick a theme song for her life (and Ally spends the rest of the episode bopping along to “Tell Him.”) 

This episode confirmed what I’d always felt to be true: Life had a soundtrack.

My life, at least, always seemed to have a soundtrack. As an only child, records (the kind that spun on a record player) filled the silence instead of siblings: Some of my earliest memories are of playing alone while listening to records of classic musicals – My Fair Lady, Annie, The Sound of Music, Guys and Dolls, The King and I. Later, the musicals were replaced by my parents’ old Cat Stevens and Beatles albums. 

There were cassette tapes, too, especially after I started school. My first cassette was Michael Jackson’s Thriller. By middle school, we were making and exchanging mix tapes (lots of Billy Joel, as I recall.) 

My first CD was the soundtrack to Disney’s The Little Mermaid. CDs remained the primary music media into my Ally McBeal days: We’d buy the latest album by U2 or Sting at Tower Records or Barnes & Noble and listen to it on our stereo or portable CD player. As a newlywed graduate student, I traversed Manhattan to a soundtrack of Tori Amos and Counting Crows. 

The Dixie Chicks will forever be the soundtrack of my first pregnancy; Mumford & Sons accompanied my second. 

But I worry that I’ve deprived my own children of a soundtrack for their lives. 

To begin with, I can barely figure out how to listen to music anymore.  Somewhere between my first and fourth children, music retreated behind screens, where it sits in digital libraries accessed by a click or a touch. 

I’m no luddite: I’d seen the writing on the wall and started the laborious process of uploading my favorite CDs onto my computer. We didn’t replace our CD players when they broke, and I started buying digital music online. I signed up for free Pandora and Spotify accounts. Last year, my husband and I realized that our CD collection had become a storage problem. What we didn’t sell off at a yard sale, we hung around the garden to keep the birds away. (I’m not sure how well they deterred the birds before they all blew down and got mangled by the mower – we still find iridescent shards of plastic in our yard.)

But we never replaced our CD player with any other speaker system, so now, when I want to listen to music, I have to use my laptop or iPod. After being transferred between multiple computers over the years, my music files are in a shambles: duplicate songs, things listed simply as “Track 1,” and entire albums have vanished. Pandora and Spotify don’t quite fit my lifestyle of running around the house and town all day in the company of young children. And forget about listening to music privately: My iPod earbuds were lost years ago, in of one of our moves. Anything I want to listen to these days has to compete with the noise of four daughters, a husband, dog, cat, and other assorted sounds of running a household. 

If I’m ever alone, my preferred soundtrack is: silence.

This means that my daughters’ primary exposure to music is in our minivan. 

Listening to music while we drive is a relatively new development, since for two years – from 2014 until 2016 – the soundtrack to Disney’s Frozen was stuck in the minivan’s CD player (apparently the stereo just didn’t want to “Let It Go.”) Eventually, no music became preferable to Frozen, so it wasn’t until my father casually pressed the eject button one day – and it worked! – that we began playing music in the minivan again. 

Now, life’s soundtrack is whatever my daughters happen to be binge-listening to as we drive between errands and activities. For a while, it was “Philadelphia Chickens,” a collection of humorous songs by children’s author Sandra Boynton, sung by celebrities like Meryl Streep, Laura Linney, and Kevin Kline. Last year, we had a long run of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe film soundtrack – which made even the most mundane errand feel like an epic struggle between good and evil. This fall, when all of my daughters were in a production of the musical Oliver, we had that CD on repeat for months (and we still can’t get “Food, Glorious Food,” or “Consider Yourself” out of our heads!) 

This is all well and good, but it’s hardly a broad selection of quality listening material. Will my daughters regret the paucity of music in their childhoods? Will I?

But tonight, as I was washing the dinner dishes, I noticed music coming from the living room. It was my 7-year-old, strumming her out-of-tune toy guitar and singing a song she’d just composed, called “Animals of the Alphabet” (“Antalope, buffalo, chimpanzee, dingo….”)

Then I realized: My house is full of music. My daughters are forever making up songs, picking out tunes on the piano, humming snatches of whatever we’re playing in the minivan. This isn’t because they’re musical prodigies (they’re not); they’re human, and this is what we do.  Just because I’m not piping recorded music into our lives doesn’t mean we lack a soundtrack; we’re making our own soundtrack. 

For right now, my theme song is the ambient noise in our house, a mash-up of the sounds of a family growing up together. 

And my daughters? They have plenty of time to discover their theme songs – or to write their own. 

 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit director. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, four daughters, assorted chickens and ducks, one feisty cat, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her "free time," she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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