As I am sitting in my bedroom hearing music from my old collections of CD’s that I acquired when I worked at the record store I am flooded with so many memories of my youth. When I was growing up music was a huge element in my life when it came to my sanity, my growth and not to mention it helped me with understanding what I was feeling when I couldn’t make heads or tails of anything. There are times that I can’t place in words what I feel or even identify and I’ll hear a song and suddenly it comes into full understanding. The song that I hear at that moment places things into perspective to what I am not able to describe in my own words. Without music in my life I would have never found my way. I would have never found a release in which to put all my angsts of being a young child of color. It was music that allowed me to find my niche in life. It helped me identify my talent and how to express it whether it was writing lyrics or dancing to the music.
Like most teenagers there wasn’t a song I didn’t know on the radio that had to do with the top 20. Living in New York my taste was eclectic from salsa music that my mother played on the constant to the street fairs that would have performers of jazz and the night hangouts where a DJ would play dance music. I was involved with it all. Before being diagnosed with A.D.D (there was no term for it back in the days) dancing was the one thing that I gravitated to. I was no older than ten when my family realized how easy I was able to see people dance and imitate the steps. It was as second nature as breathing is to life. Every time I heard dance music the way I took it apart in my mind was very different. I was able to notice every little nuance, every little change. It got to a point that I was able to tell people every piece of the music. It helped me to learn how to concentrate. It was music that helped me think better. Music had a way of helping me break things down and I was able to apply that to other areas of my life. It helped me break out of my shell I was in because I was a bit shy.
When I got to Middle School music gave me another major development in my life. I discovered that I could sing. Not many people knew that I could sing. It was only something that I did at home by myself when I was hearing my 45’s. It wouldn’t be till I was in 9th grade that the school would know that I sang. In our senior year we had 2 classes that were considered Electives. That meant they didn’t really serve as a full credit but were a requirement in order to pass. One of those classes was Music. I can’t remember the teachers name but he would try to teach us songs while he played on a piano. I know we gave him a hard time. We would go in there and just be loud and obnoxious. Some of the guys would be cracking jokes, others would be just silent. We didn’t like the fact that we needed to take this class in order to graduate. That poor teacher always looked like he was going to have a nervous breakdown. As time went along he eventually got us to be quiet. It happened when he started to play more music that we knew. Little did I know that it was my introduction into loving theater. This particular day he brought in the lyrics to “What I Did For Love”. This song was part of the Broadway play The Chorus Line. I actually liked it. The sound of the piano when he played it, the words on the paper just made me feel good. Learning with a live instrument just changed me. Most of the class wasn’t in to it but we knew that we had to sing it I order to pass the class. At first we were reluctant but he kept on playing till we kept got it and started singing. At that moment I don’t know what happened but I closed my eyes and just sang. I sounded louder than the rest of the guys in class. To me I felt like I was whispering. As the song progressed the class got quieter. Before I knew it I was the only one singing. The song finished and when I opened my eyes my teacher was smiling and the class was looking at me with their mouths open. I felt so embarrassed. I could feel the blood rush to my face and I so wanted to just crawl under the desk. That was the first time that I broke out my shell as a singer and it was the first time the world heard my voice.
It would be nice if I told you that I kept singing publicly but I didn’t. The teacher gave me a passing grade and encouraged me to follow it. What this did was made me submerge myself in everything that was a musical. There was Sweet Charity and The Sound Of Music that I watched on T.V. We were poor so I was never able to afford going to a real play. There was movies like A Christmas Carol that were set as musicals that they would play on T.V and with a tape recorder my mother gave me as a birthday present I would record them and just learn them from paying them back on TDK cassette tapes. I would here all types of music. The love of musicals and jazz was insatiable. I didn’t sing publicly but I did sing more around the house. I also sang more to my friends that I had on the block. It also instilled in me the want and need to go to a school that developed the arts. Finally I found something that I loved. That summer all I did was dance and sing. Looking back I must’ve drove my mother crazy around the house repeating the same song on the record player. I made it to a Julia Richman under the Talented Unlimited program and that is when I was able to put both my love of dancing and singing together. I made it to the musical theater part of the program. It was a brand new world to me that helped me focus and have direction. I dove into all things that had to do with the body and how it worked. My voice became an extension of me that I was discovering.
Through all of this I lived in a neighborhood that was considered poor. It was a neighborhood ravaged with drugs. It was the era of the late 80’s and walking the streets weren’t safe. There were gangs on corners and the sound of gunshots was a regular thing I grew up hearing. Music entering my life made me pass by all that. I was not naïve of what was going on outside my window but it was something I didn’t want to indulge in. The streets called me in a different way because of the sounds of the congas playing at night or the guys singing doo-wop. It was music that made me love going to school. I remember the many times I would be sick as a dog with a cold or a fever and my mother would tell me to stay home and because I loved dance and singing I would go to school. It was because of music that I stood grounded. It was the love of music that I would gain the confidence I needed to speak in front of people. It was the love of the arts that brought me back home after my life took a very dark turn. The healing had a lot to do with this.