Music has always had a very special place in my world. Music is calming, friendly, amazing. It doesn’t judge when I can’t talk. It is beautiful and caring, and raw wonder. Music can calm my brain in the middle of a meltdown. It can get me up after a long day. It can make me laugh and make me cry. I’ve always had music in my life and couldn’t even begin to put all of it into one post. So rather than try, I wanted to simply share my story, and my relationship with music in several smaller parts, starting with the first music I ever appreciated. I know that music is a super important part of many people’s lives, autistic or not, and that some people have had major success with using music as part of therapies. For me, music was definitely an incredibly important part of helping me learn to self-regulate, and how to function.
When my mother was pregnant with me, she claimed that if I was kicking, I would stop when she played a certain song. When I was born, I wasn’t much of a crier, but if I started to get fussy, she could turn on the song, and I would relax, and stop fussing. When I got older, and started having meltdowns, she could turn on the song, and it would help me relax and get out of the meltdown faster. As I got older, if I was unhappy or agitated, I could turn on the song, and I would relax. Even now, it helps me concentrate, it helps me think, it keeps me calm. It’s amazing the power of one single piece of music on my brain. I don’t understand why, but it has a wonderous effect. It’s amazing my mother didn’t just keep that piece of music on all the time. It might have lost its effect if she had, though. This piece of music is Enya’s “Orinoco Flow”. (And now that you’re thinking about it, I have, I hope, successfully embedded her youtube video below, so you can now hit “play” and listen to it, as you read the rest of this post if you so choose.)
Ironically, this is not my favorite piece of music. Not intellectually, anyway. Read on for that. But this piece of music holds a very special place in my world, because it’s more than music for me. This isn’t to say that I don’t really enjoy Enya – I do. I just wouldn’t classify her as my “favorite music”.
My mother’s mother was a very successful pianist before she got very sick. Though she recovered, she never regained her full musical abilities. However when she would play with me as a toddler, sometimes she would sit with me at the piano. This was my first introduction to making music. I loved it, and from the moment I was able to express it to my parents, I begged for piano lessons.
My parents listened to a lot of music, mostly folk (Peter, Paul, and Mary was a household favorite, Simon and Garfunkel were also popular), and what my generation thinks of as “oldies” – The Beatles, The Beach Boys, etc. They rarely listened to anything purely instrumental. For them, music was about the words and the message. I enjoyed it, but I sure didn’t understand why my parents loved it so much.
When I was nearly 6 years old, just about to start kindergarten, my parents bought me a radio alarm clock. They told me that now I was going to “big girl” school, I was going to have “big girl” responsibilities, and it was now my job to wake up and get up in the morning so I wouldn’t be late for school. They set the radio to the oldies station, and showed me how to set the alarm and make sure that it was turned on. That night, I figured out how to change the station using the dial. I figured out how to move so that I didn’t listen to the awful static. And I discovered the classical music channel. I loved listening to the pure music. No words, just music. I had never heard anything so beautiful, and at the tender age of 5, I discovered classical music.
The next day, my parents helped me set my alarm again. They noticed that the channel had changed, so they helped me “fix” it and put it back on the Oldies station. I waited until they were gone, and then changed it back to classical. I listened to it until I fell asleep, and then again as I woke up. For about 2 weeks, this routine happened, with my parents resetting my radio, and me setting it back, and then they gave up. I listened to the same classical music radio station for the next 13 years. Every weekday morning that I was at home, I would wake up to the same announcer, a wonderful woman whose voice I love to hear, and when I am near a computer during her program now, even though I live far away, I tune in online. I learned about the great classical composers. I fell in love with Mozart’s music, because it was so simple, but so complex at the same time. I devoured anything by Beethoven, Bach, and Brahms. Instrumental classical music became my favorite thing. I adored everything I heard, from solo piano to great symphonies. It was a revelation, to me, this beautiful, wonderful music that happened without words. So much beauty, so much pure joy, and I loved it all. You didn’t need words to spread this music. The music itself was enough, and words would have ruined it. And I still listen to almost exclusively classical music today. I still love it, and I still find the most joy in music without words.
Intellectually, looking back and knowing about my autism, it doesn’t surprise me that my favorite music was music that didn’t have words. To me, the words in my parents’ music were just an extra thing that required effort to hear and to process. I didn’t need those to enjoy the message and the glory of the music. In fact, I think that was perhaps the biggest draw to classical music, initially, though I don’t know. I stopped at the station, because it sounded pretty, and it was love at first note, if you will. That night, as a young 5-year-old when I was fiddling with my new radio alarm clock, changed my life. It opened up a whole new world of music to me, one which shaped my interests, passions, and development.
To Be Continued…