Music has impacted the lives of my family members through many challenges and adversities throughout my life, including MS. We are, and have always been, a musical family. Our prowess has spanned generations and continues to bless the lives of the 5 generations we have living today.
My earliest experiences with music happened when I was so small I can’t even recall them, but I am told that I underwent EEG’s and spinal taps while yet an infant of but 5 months in an effort to determine the cause of my blindness. The only way the medical professionals were able to perform these grueling procedures without my being hysterical was for my mother to sing to me without ceasing. As long as she sang I remained still and compliant while they attached electrodes to my head or inserted a needle into my back. However, if she stopped her crooning, even for a moment, I became unmanageable and started to howl at once.
As I grew older, our family sang all the time and everywhere: at home, at church, in the car. In short, we used our natural musical talent and practiced until we were all nearly expert in the skill. I remember driving from Alaska to California with my Grandpa when I was 4. We sang “Froggie Went A’ Courting” hundreds of times during that week. Then, when he died 77 years later, the whole family joined the choir and sang “Let the Mountains Shout For Joy” at his funeral.
By the time I was six I had embarked on regular solo performances and with choirs at school, then later at church. I sang for weddings, for funerals, for dramatic productions and for local fundraisers. Mostly, I sang because I loved it and because I knew it made others happy.
When I started having children I began to sing to them before they were born and they could sing just about as soon as they could talk. When my daughter was 9, she had to undergo a medical test that required an I.V. to be placed in her small arm. The nurses were having a hard time finding a good vein, so naturally, I burst into song, one of her favorites from “My Fair Lady”. Unfortunately, I got the words wrong, so she had no choice but to join me as she lay there in pain. She started to sing “All I want is a room somewhere” and then continued improvising to fit the situation “very far away from here…” The nurses were charmed. Together we sang while they tried three times before finally placing the needed I.V.
We enjoyed listening to music of all types and I can remember one occasion with my children that especially struck my oldest daughter as more than amusing. We were singing along with a CD of “Pretty Woman” and the kids were dancing with great enthusiasm about the living room. When I uttered the word “Mercy” I struck a funny pose and my eyes rolled in an such an unusual manner that my children were brought to tears from laughter.
On another occasion as I was readying myself for bed I heard my son begin to sing a favorite song he had learned in church. “Have I done any good in the world today? Have I helped anyone in need? Have I cheered up the sad or made someone feel glad? If not, I have failed indeed.” I was so moved by the sincerity of his young voice and the depth of meaning he put in his words and I wondered when the last time was that I had done any of those things. Then I heard him launch into another tune, “I will go, I will do the things the Lord commands…” I was brought to tears of regret, at first and later, resolve as I listened on every night for several weeks as he serenaded me with the same two songs nightly. If my son, at six, could care about making others happy I should be able to do at least as much with or without MS.
When I first had MS, there was a period of time when my ability to sing was affected. I had difficulty breathing and found that I just wasn’t singing as much as I used to do. A lot of this was probably due to the severity of the onset of my MS. I was very focused on dealing with its symptoms and the changes it was making in my life.
But there came a point when I realized the best way to get over you own troubles is to give something back to others, so I started to sing more again. I had to work on the basics and accept the fact that my voice is changed forever, but it is actually better in many ways. I can’t hit a High C but there is a richer, more vibrant tone to my voice that I like.
And, it’s something I can give back. So far this year, I have performed 9 solos both in church and secular venues, one duet with my father, one trio with both my parents and numerous times with the choir at church. I have begun adapting music melodies to make them a little different and more interesting so I am composing now as well. I even converted a taped recording of one of my performances onto a CD just to see what it would sound like. My music makes me happy in a world that is often complicated by what MS can throw in my path. And it feels good to know that I can give something back that makes others happy as well.
The song “You’ve Got a Friend” is one that I sang dozens of times on the radio when I was raising funds for a 2-year old who had numerous malignant tumors in his brain and spinal cord.
I sang this one just once and invited listeners to attend a picnic that was being held in our area for him. Before I knew it, I had raised $17,000 for his family so they could be with him in what the doctors feared would be the final days of his life. He survived and is today a thriving young adult. I am humbled to know that something as simple as a song could have made such a difference for him and his family.
I encourage everyone to never give up on giving back something to others. Having MS may change what we can give and the means by which we can share our skills, talents and knowledge to improve the lives of others, whatever effort we give to serving others will only make us feel happier. Tell me in the comments below how you or others you know have given back to the community.