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The Music Keeper
You know how there are some songs that, with a single note, can bring back a flood of memories as powerfully as if they’re happening all over again? Whereas with other songs, the words speak so much truth to your heart that you just want to paint them all over the world, carve them into your skin and scream out this is me and I am this!
When music makes you feel like this, it’s because of me. I’m the Music Keeper.
I am a chest of melodies, triplets and dotted quarter notes, broken strings of vibrato, fragments of lyrics, bits and pieces of old cello strings. Just as Cupid is in charge of love and Mother Earth guides nature through its cycles of life, I inhabit music in its very essence.
Since the beginning of time, from the very first rhythmic drums in the dense forests of Africa, to stony-faced choirs in the Middle Ages, to the vivid popular sensations of today’s America, I am responsible for humankind’s ability to create melody where before there was nothing. I feed off the little energies that come from particularly beautiful sound.
Assuming you are mortal, I don’t expect this to quite make sense to whoever happens to be reading this little tale. The idea that one being can encompass a multifaceted, hopelessly intricate part of life doesn’t exactly fit in to the human brain, which feeds off structure. I will explain to the best of my ability, but I must ask you to open your mind, as you would to perhaps an unfamiliar genre of music.
If you’re wondering, I do not write all the music humans create. I simply cast lyrics and melodies (and harmonies and requiems and sonatas and hymnals) in the form of spectrums throughout the air, and I wait for people to find them, whether caught half-unconsciously on a fragment of wind or picked up as dust flecks on the inner ear.
I am often spoken of as one of the less important Beings (there is no real word for us, so I will employ the use of this one for the time) so this is probably why you have not heard of me. People spend more time agonizing over the dreary and merciless Death, talking to the Muse for inspiration, and all-around mutilating and exhausting poor Cupid. Oh yes! That is the word. Humans often refer to us cumulatively as “God,” for we govern all tides.
Although my job might not seem as vital as the others, without me guiding you the world would be as blank as a sheet of paper, without rhythm or rhyme. And I also have another, more important job, in addition to creating the music: I must keep it. I must not let it escape, for if I accidentally let go of some of the Heavenly music then people would be too enthralled by it to ever go about their lives, and Mother Earth’s most intricate creations would quickly die out. This Heavenly music that we Beings make trumps all other forces - hunger, hatred, love’s desires, death’s keen sting - and it would be a disastrous weapon in the hands of a human.
Oh, there are touches of Heavenly music everywhere. You see, it sounds different to everyone, and it takes the form; little shimmering wisps of it; in that part of the song that just clicks for you, the part that makes your heart lift ever so slightly. This is the closest you might come to an appreciation of what the Heavenly music truly is. Oh yes, it is.
I, however, am here to describe to you a time when my boundaries were severely tested. I am going to tell you about when I lost my heart and when I almost lost the world.
We Beings usually walk among the people on earth, living a variety of different lives. You see, sitting up in Heaven would be supremely uninteresting - and how would I know what type of music to send down to the people from way up there? It happened - what I am speaking of - when I was in the form of a young girl in a warm American coastal city. It was wintertime, and deep in the blue, Cupid saw my vengeance.
Cupid and I have never gotten along. You see, the little sprite has his heart in the right place, but he gets so much joy out of true pain and a good breakup. He also adores confusion. It’s by my hand, however, that so many people are able to clear up their confusion by crafting painfully lovely breakup songs. Death and I together have nearly driven Cupid up the wall. Music is simply a more acute manifestation of love, but Cupid doesn’t see it that way. He thinks I’m a meddler.
So he played a trick on me.
He gave me a boy with bright blue eyes and named him Noel. I had put myself into a roughly high-school age, because I was sensing a lack of truth in the music and needed to examine the roots of all the lies, and I admit it - I was distracted, and a little too caught up in the crossfire of human life.
It was a Tuesday when I first saw him; I remember that clearly, for some reason. I noticed him just a little, his sunny hair and the way that he seemed just a little better than all the rest around him. Then he passed me by and the crossroads of the hall merged and swept me along. I was a young plain jane of a girl, with short black hair and an unremarkable figure, but suddenly I wished I’d made myself into more of a stunner, like the girls with perfect tan skin and a waist so unblemished it could be displayed without modesty above the top of size 2 jeans.
I hardly crossed paths with him until the school’s talent night, when I decided to perform a little song I’d written. I purposefully filled it with wrong notes and bad chords, with cliched lyrics and terrible sound, but by the end half the audience was weeping, and he stood up for me, the boy with the sunny hair and the clear blue eyes. The rest of them followed, like a black cloak fluttering up to level out by his shoulders. The powerful poignancy of the feeling that struck me at that very moment nearly knocked me off my feet, for never in my life had I been so happy that someone praised my music.
You can suppose what happened from there. He approached me in the velvety darkness of light and told me he planned on becoming a musician himself, and he’d thought himself talented but he’d never heard anything quite so beautiful as my music. I offered, stupidly, to give him guitar lessons after school. The lessons turned into songwriting sessions and we were singing together and I fell for him completely and totally, not once considering Cupid’s hand in this. That is the true marvel of love, how it completely destroys all reason.
During our lessons, I tried to keep myself as mortal as possible, for I still remembered some of the sacredness of the Heavenly music I possess. However, he set my soul aflame and I found myself releasing more and more shines of it into the songs I taught him. There was that day when he put his arms around my shoulders and I moved his fingers about the strings of the guitar. I had gradually been transforming myself into a lovelier girl, slight variations in skin tone and face shape so little that I’d thought no one would notice. That night, he offered me a drink. The studio we practiced in was barren, decorated with a few dirty Greek spinoffs complete with plastic ivy, so one of us strung up a row of lightbulbs that glittered in the night. The drink does not mix well with the system of a Being, because we are so pure and ghostly, and it did remove all judgement from me then. I played him a song with my whole heart, a sweet melody. For once I did not concern myself with mortal mistakes. I allowed myself to create what I was born to - true music - and the song drew little fireflies and creatures of the day and night into the room, gathering around my shoulders in mesmerized awe.
It was made of more Heavenly music than I had intended, what I played. It was not my very best, for I have created symphonies and orchestras of vast proportion and grand scheme and this was only a simple love song, but it was part Heavenly music and not just a strand of it; whole lines of it, ten-second bursts of light. When I finished his eyes were round like moons and I could tell that his mind was struggling to comprehend what he had just heard.
I fell at his feet, terrified for what might happen, but he swallowed and kissed me and that’s when I fell head over heels. I was trapped in a mortal’s life, you see, too far away from the reality of my existence, and I had come to see my musical abilities as a sort of handicap, a bitter secret. The fact that he knew of them and yet loved me all the more for it made me feel the same way a true girl feels when her crippling speech impediment is the very thing that attracts her boyfriend to her. I was atrociously disillusioned, you see. Cupid’s plan was in motion - I had given my heart away - but it at the same time had gone horribly off course, and the sanctity and power of music, closer to me than my soul, belonged to Noel as well.
He must have felt the heaviness of what he had been given, for he came into school the next day with a head full of aspirin and a ferocious desire to learn how to create music like mine. I was full of love, and distracted, and for a while we floated on a silver cloud. Winter melted into spring, and what a lovely spring it was, full of vibrant yellow flowers and cherry blossom fragrance, pink trees with splashes of magenta coursing down them like raindrops, and I paid a visit to Mother Nature in the trees to congratulate her on her handiwork. She frowned at me, cautioned me, called me a child, but I could not listen. We turned to spats. Vengefully, she sent blizzards down to the earth, just when I was so ecstatic about what the new season would offer Noel and me. I turned my back on the Beings, like a petty brat, over the simple matter of weather. I turned my back to them and gave myself to Noel. I loved him and he loved me, or so I believed.
Then came the April showers. I presented him with fragments of Heavenly music, not so much ever as the first night, but enough for him to bear. He was enthralled with the idea of what music had become for him. You must understand; he was attractive, certainly, but the film of desire was pressed over my eyes, cruelly by Cupid’s hand, and this made him the most extraordinary thing to me. In return for the music, he taught me the meaning of human life, the intricate definitions, and although I was aware of its shallowness I went along with it, practically delirious the whole way through.
On a blue Thursday it was raining, and the sky was cerulean, with dark, bleeding clouds accumulating in wisps of shadow. The rain formed dark rivulets on the glistening pavement. Noel and I were walking to a party twenty or so blocks away. He stopped me by a bench. The streets ached with loneliness, and I hummed a sharp little harmony in the back of my throat. People scurried by, swallowed in their leathery black coats, and he placed his hand on my shoulder. “It’s over,” he said, and I’ll never forget his voice. I’ll honestly never forget him.
“What?” I said, falling back on my heel, looking behind him, praying silently that he simply meant the storm. The clouds still fumed above us, Mother Nature’s version of disgust.
“We’re over,” he said, pointing to me, as if it wasn’t clear. His eyes burned holes in my skin. He spoke to me in the simple tongue of humanity, conditioned to communicate only in the dullest fragments of their expressive potential. “You’re really weird.” His breath smoked towards me. “Look. I just wanted you to show me how to make music. You did. It’s cool. Better than cool. I - I can’t explain how your music is. But it’s weird. It hurts.” He struggled to find the words to describe his overheated mortal mind. “When you play music it drives me crazy with that feeling, that I can’t explain, and I don’t think I can stand it. And I never really liked you anyway. You’re kind of weird. Sorry.”
“You said weird three times,” I said, in a fractional whisper. “Couldn’t you find a better word than that?” I was slipping, crumbling into myself.
“Oh, cr*p,” he said, burying his hands in his pockets, his eyes flickering like stars. “Look, I’m sorry. I’m graduating in two months. Long distance isn’t gonna work. I know nothing about you, and you’re like some - this isn’t helping. Sorry. Goodbye.” He sighed, shoulders sagging with what seemed like relief. Cupid cackled on a cloud above me, giggling and roaring. I saw him up there, faintly, in hysterics, but I believed myself to have imagined him. I half believed myself to be a mortal by then.
He walked away into the misty distance. I won’t describe how I felt just then, in those bitter minutes after. I’ve tried to keep my emotions separate from this story. Of course, it’s not entirely possible since emotion is, after all, an integral part of any world. Emotion is a dapper fellow, with the kind of watery eyes that trick you into thinking he’s about to cry when really he’s about to scream or laugh, but he’s brutally honest and painfully shy. He’s quite a good friend of mine. He’s also friends with Cupid, which I absolutely can’t stand - but that is for another tale.
Anyway, I won’t speak of the emotions I felt, soaked to the bone in a rainstorm. I won’t because they still hurt me if I think of them too deeply. Instead I will tell you that I fell to the stony ground. After minutes on the slick black pavement I began to crawl, into a corner of the street made rancid with the vomit of pollution and litter. I will tell you how I took some battered scrap paper from the makeshift chair of a homeless man with a face creased with sun, and how I spent the night scribbling a symphony of terrible proportion. It was vast and hysterical dirge smashed with horns and brass and stabbed with opera notes and bursts of choir and harmonies of a trillion notes, and it was and is my most brilliant work to date.
This symphony-opera fantasia of a composition, too large to be encompassed in a word, was not, however, Heavenly music, although I did not hold back in the least with it. It’s something different. For where there is Heaven, there is H*ll, and in this piece I used a different type of music, a brother of sorts to Heavenly. Have I mentioned it? How could it have slipped my mind? It is called Demonic music, and it has the power to destroy the world. It is that haunting melody that sends you shivering into the darkness, that clings to you late at night, shoulder blades pressed into the bed by the merciless moon. It is that drastic swoop of the wicked vulture of sound that has the power to blind and strike a person dead, to crawl beneath their skin and to rip their blood from their veins. You think I exaggerate? Tell me you’ve never found yourself bothered, just in the slightest, by a song. Tell me you’ve never disliked a piece of music. I’ll tell you that Demonic music was released in just a tiny dust fleck on accident thousands of years ago, at the origin of it all, and it it has never again been let out. Imagine that dust fleck, responsible for all of what I have just told you, a billion fold, piled on top of each other in waves of devastating calamity. You might then be able to understand the magnitude of my opera.
By no means am I intending to sound pretentious. I did not mean to compose a piece with Demonic music, but my soul was shattered that night. I will try, for a second, to describe my pain. My flesh was torn and ripped. My heart swelled and burst in flailing balloon-pieces about my ribs. I was filled with the agony of a thousand scorching - no, I cannot! I feel the Demonic music in my fingers again, even with the knowledge of what it has done, what it could do... You see what you have done!
I wrote that opera in the depths of despair, and I was filled with hatred for the human race. You must understand that we Beings, clear-bodied as we are, have all the more capacity for emotion on an epic scale. Most mortals, at some point in their lives, go through some terrible breakup, so they can understand part of what I was feeling. Beings are not meant to fall in love, so Cupid exempts them, in most cases, but not in mine. His revenge was perfectly orchestrated, but I don’t think he understood the true potency of what my reaction would be. After all, I was the first Being to fall in love, ever.
I was filled with rage at all mortals, so I took my composition to a music school and left it there. I can only imagine the reaction of the professor or student who picked the manuscript up, looking with first bored curiosity and then horrified intensity at the music, more extraordinary and more terrible than anything they’d ever seen before.
All I know is that it was sent, somehow, to the finest orchestra in the world, a mark of bizarre anonymous genius, and rehearsals commenced immediately. Filled with bitter regret, to my dismay I was unable to track the score down. Ultimately, though, a string of deaths in the music industry caught my attention, all stemming from one particular city, one particular fellowship of musicians. I knew this must be where my music had landed.
I was still miserable, pining deeply for Noel. By then I understood that Cupid must have been behind it, but I was convinced that this love had been something more, something exquisitely special. I did not realize that Cupid has his own form of Heavenly and Demonic music, and those are true and obsessive love. I did not realize that he employed his form of my music on me.
I realize now.
I flew into the city, across a shimmering ocean, bargaining with the Being of Commerce for money, for in my human form I am unable to appear and disappear at will. As I coasted through the clouds, hopelessly hindered by the metal around me, I read the newspaper and learned of the eight deaths that had occurred and the seventeen other members of the ensembles that had fallen ill while working on the “unbelievable and eerily life-changing” (the journalist’s words, not mine) composition that had come to be known as Skrämmande, or The Terrifying, in Swedish. I understood, with a settled finality, that there would be many more deaths when the music peaked and flowed through the operahouse on opening night. The musical event had experienced the greatest number of job fluctuation in the history of the operahouse that it would be performing at. Nobody could last with my Skrämmande for more than a span of a few weeks, it seemed. Truthfully, I was impressed with the steadfastness of the mortals in regards to this - I’d assumed that a few days would be the average. I suppose that musicians are extremely tough. If they weren’t, they’d never be able to give up their lives to the profession.
I arrived at the music hall, and I could instantly feel the chill in the air, as if invisible icicles had attached themselves to the red velveteen walls. My curiosity piqued, I impulsively told the man standing by the stage door that I was a violinist. Asking me to prove it, he handed me a little wine-colored instrument with untuned strings. I played an intricate medley of notes that I’m sure sounded far too complicated for him to begin to understand. Eyes wide and a little misty, he speedily let me in.
I wound my way through corridors, inquiring persistently about the whereabouts of the director. I found him in his dressing room, a man with very wiry grey hair and purple bags beneath his exhausted eyes.
“Hello, sir,” I said. He turned towards me, the lights surrounding his mirror falling in slants on his creased face.
“Are you another dropout?” he replied, voice heavily layered with exhaustion. “Not tonight. Just play the show tonight. We’re already ten short or more in every section.”
“No...” I exclaimed, throwing my hands up.
“Look. I’ll pay you double. Triple. Whatever you want. Just play the show tonight.” His eyes were rimmed with red circles.
“I’m not a musician,” I lied instantly, the words coming easily to my tongue. “I can’t play a single note. But I’m here to tell you that you have to cancel the performance. The show can’t go on. Not this show.” I was overcome with frustration. The Beings are all-powerful, controlling every aspect of the world, but on our own, we can only accomplish one specific thing, and without the others, we are nothing. After I’d angered Mother Nature and revoked my fellow Beings, they’d all abandoned me. I would have to do this the most human way possible.
“But Skrämmande is a work of genius... to not perform it would be a sin!” he shouted. “Little girl, I should not be telling you this, but the work has taken over my life. Every moment, sleeping or awake, has been consumed by the horrible rhythms of this monstrosity. I cannot... I will not give up now, not after all this agony.” His teeth were yellow as he bared them at me.
“How many times has the piece been played in its entirety?” I inquired.
“Never,” he said, voice growing jagged. “There were enough sicknesses, fainting, you name it, during individual ensemble rehearsals, but when we came together... by the first notes, death.”
“So you see! You must not perform!” I stepped closer to him, begging.
“But the death has only drawn the biggest crowd this operahouse has ever seen. You do not know the pain of this music. This music, this music... it is something unbelievable. I am nearly overwhelmed by it each time I hear it. Little girl, why have you come here? How did you persuade the guard to let you in?”
“Because I am a liar,” I told him. “I am also the writer of the symphony that you call Skrämmande.”
“Pretentious child!” he roared. “You are a liar! You have admitted it yourself!”
“Where is an instrument, any instrument? Or do you wish me to sing each part?”
He was fuming. “I’ll have you out this instant! You enrage me. The world takes advantage of me, performers quitting left and right, death everywhere.” His voice crumbled into a shaking mutter. He grabbed my shoulder and with some force, pushed me out of the room.
“You cannot perform it,” I said. “My opera... it is not... like other music. It will overwhelm your minds. Once it is unleashed, even imperfectly, as it is sure to be, it will destroy more than you can imagine.”
“It goes on,” he bellowed. “It goes out tonight!” Then he kicked my shin, and I ran out the door, past the baffled guard, past a bevy of choir singers, warming up their fluttery voices. The nervousness was palpable amongst all the musicians.
I took my seat, more terrified than ever. I had not been able to persuade the conductor; there was only one thing left. I would have to create a diversion. The show could not go on. People in this audience - those that survived - would certainly be recording the show, and once it hit the internet, it would overwhelm everyone who watched it, who caught an ear of it, anywhere.
They would blame the deaths on a gas explosion, on a freak fire, even on a mass murder plot. Mortals will do anything to deny what they presume impossible.
The theater grew dark, and a hush fell on the crowd like sequined rain lightly settling. Purple stage lights illuminated the clouds of fog that rolled across the stage, shimmering and glinting off the impossibly lovely strings and angles of my instruments. The first notes squealed their way out of the highest soprano violin like little bursts of indigo lightning.
I had denied thinking about Noel over the past weeks, searching for my gloria, my corpus, my symphony, but with the very first sound, it all came plummeting back to me and I sat, my back sewn to the seat, just as stunned as all the other listeners. Sweat glistened from the performers’ faces. I could smell Death in the room already, gnawing at the velvet curtains.
All the memories of the pain and sorrow I had experienced while writing the song came crashing into me. The simple rejection of a mortal human boy had sparked this horrible thing. How had I grown to be so blind?
Either way, Skrämmande was certainly terrifying. I could sense the people around me going through the same sensations as I was. The melody bloomed, set with aching notes of cellos as a few flutists whittled a silvery dawn of exquisite anguish through the air. Everyone hearing this music was being confronted with their deepest pain, and I could do nothing about it. I could hear gasps, fragments of sobs, and broken screams huddling in the corners of the throats of everyone, bound together in one stunned mass in the darkness.
Then, the bells.
I had written in a simple bell part, with triangles and wind chimes, simple instruments, yet with a chilling effect when coupled with the deafening silence of the theater.
Finally, it exploded into the furious cacophony of blazing music. It was now or never. The woman next to me slumped in her seat. A bassist dropped her instrument somewhere in the back and it clattered to the floor with a thump that resounded like a heartbeat throughout the walls of the operahouse. I leapt up in my chair, fighting, fighting, fighting the affliction that ripped through me like a disease. Noel’s blue eyes kept flashing before me, but I pushed on. I made my way through the crowds of hysterical people, up to the stage, and no one noticed me at all; they were so completely overcome.
I made my way to an instrument, any instrument - I felt my fingers touch the keys of the grand piano, sitting center stage. The pianist’s fingers were shaking, and he barely flinched when I pushed him onto the floor, vamped up the microphone to the loudest possible volume, and began to play.
I focused more deeply on the music than I ever had before, because this was life or death for all of us. I sent a song of simplicity and healing out over the people, and one by one, the musicians of Skrämmande stopped playing. A few even began to pick up my melody. I played the music of forgetting, because music has the power to do that; to make us forget; to heal us; to tear us away from our darkest hours. Finally, the last remnants of my terrible opera died away.
The audience was too shaken to react for several long seconds, and I sat with the bright lights hemming on my eyelashes.
“Is everyone alright?” I said tentatively.
Slowly, a ripple of faint laughter began to bubble throughout the audience. Then, someone started to clap, and then the whole audience was roaring and cheering.
I smiled sadly. “I’ll go quickly,” I told them, my voice echoing across the stadium. “I am the writer of the music you have just heard.” The audience shivered. “Tomorrow, none of you will remember this quite clearly. You must heal your hurt and heal your hearts. But I must tell you that you must not forget beauty even in your greatest darkness.” I dropped the microphone. As the audience screamed and applauded, I melted back through the rows of stunned musicians, back and into the air of a night decorated with the clear pinpoints of radiant stars. A moon hung lightly up in the air, and the operahouse behind me hummed with life.
Cupid settled down next to me. He alighted on a tree branch in the form he liked to use the most; a small and winged child. “That was a dirty trick, Cupid,” I howled, and we really started going at it, screaming and all.
Then he began to laugh hysterically.
“What’s so funny?” I shouted. “That you almost caused me to burn the whole world down?”
“It’s that I did this because I don’t like the breakup songs you write,” he giggled, rolling his large brown eyes. “And then you go and write the mother of all breakup songs.”
“I hope you learned your lesson,” I reprimanded.
“I am sorry,” he said, as genuinely as possible. Sometimes, love can be true, after all, on occasion. “I’ll remove your love now, if you’d like.”
“No, I think I’ll keep it,” I said wryly, taking in a deep breath. His brow furrowed. “After all, a breakup makes the best song material. And Skrämmande? I wrote that in an hour. You should hear what I can do if I actually try.”
Cupid let out a little screech, and then he cartwheeled into the sky. I could hear the echoes of his laughter on the wind.
And this, my friend, is the story of how I lost my heart and almost lost the world as well. My anger remains towards Cupid, and the world is still shaken. We will become friends once more - because music is love, after all - and luckily, my music saved the day once again. The remnants of my foray into the world of humanity, however, will remain forever.
I am not healed, but I will continue on into the world, sending shafts of light and inspiration out, inspiring beautiful music throughout the populace of the lovely planet called Earth.
So the next time you hear a song that, with a single note, can bring back a flood of memories as powerfully as if they’re happening all over again, or a piece that speaks so much truth to your heart that you just want to paint it all over the world, carve it into your skin and scream out this is me and I am this!
It’s because of me. After all, I’m the Music Keeper.