When I was a young girl, I wanted to make music…sing for all occasions, celebratory, sacred because music touched my soul and renewed my spirit. My earliest recollections of music as worship was listening to my Big Mama singing as she swept the floors, cooked meals and rejoiced that her eldest daughter and four girls were home to visit. Her singing was a conversation with God, a thank you, a praise report.
We learned songs at home and sang them in the church according to David’s warning. It was amazing to hear the songs we sang accompanied by a piano and organ, reproduced at Good Hope AME Church, Chidester, Arkansas. The songs there were often sung without instrumentation other than hands beating out the rhythm and Mrs. Pearlie Box’s tambourine. Underlying the music was prayers for provision, songs of gratitude to a God who covered them with His grace and mercy during Jim Crow segregation.
Whether in Arkansas or Rockford, no one asked me to sing in the choir; I couldn’t carry a tune. An early elementary school teacher hearing my loud, off-key singing when we were preparing for an all-school performance, said to me, but loudly enough for the class to hear, “Joyce, just mouth the words.” She broke my heart with her cruel words. She was focused on showing off her students, not on devastating a young girl who loved to sing in her raspy voice.
Nevertheless, even though I practiced self-censorship in public, I sang all the time and knew the lyrics to sacred and secular music. When other kids chose between choir, orchestra or band for junior high school, I decided on the orchestra and learned there is a blessing in trying new things.
For three years, I lugged my cello home, practicing my bow strokes, my finger placement, and my vibrato. My orchestra teacher took extra time to teach me to play that cello. I became the second chair in my junior high orchestra because I learned to listen with my heart, look to him for guidance if I couldn’t figure it out, and to make beautiful music.
My piano teacher (oh yes, I played the piano, too) taught me how to read music. He insisted his students learn to sight-read, not rely on “playing by ear,” to be able to hear a song and translate it on the piano. I practiced, did the required experiences and learned the chords…enough to play for Sunday School and my enjoyment.
Whenever I hear O Holy Night during the holiday season, I am transported back to South Avenue, Rockford, Illinois where my three sisters crowded around the upright piano, singing as I played. Music is meant to be shared. My inability to carry a tune did not negate my ability to make music or to be blessed by the messages contained in the music.
My final music moment came during college. Liberal Arts majors were required to take a course in either music or art appreciation. I left it to the summer before my senior year to enroll in Music Appreciation. An audition was required. A simple test. Answer some questions. Sing the scales: Do Re Me Fa So La Ti Do. How hard can that be? My interview was great while discussing theory and music appreciation. I’d learned about Bach and Beethoven and other music greats from my music teacher. From my orchestra days, I learned to recognize and appreciate all forms of music.
I flunked the audition. The professor said, “You speak so well. Your inflection points extend along the musical scales, BUT you can’t sing. I suggest you sign up for the Art Appreciation class, instead.” So…I did and earned that “A” I needed to complete my humanities requirement.
As Maya Angelou says, “Still I Rise.” The inability to hear and reproduce musical sound as defined by experts or teachers or the public pushed me to find another musical expression. Music has been transformative in my life. When I need a soothing word, I turn to music. I love and respect artists who use their gifts to create and share songs with the rest of us. When I sit to write or meditate, I turn on the music as I remember II Samuel: David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the LORD, with songs and with harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums, and cymbals
-Joyce A. Brown
Joyce Brown is a motivational speaker and author who uses her creative energy to give voice and meaning to the challenges women face in all walks of life. She grew up in Rockford, Illinois in a household of strong women. She graduated from Bradley University with a B.S. and M.A. Her professional career expanded her reach into Peoria, Illinois; and Battle Creek, Michigan. Joyce obtained a PhD from Western Michigan University.
She is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and has served as a direct services worker, executive director, program director for a major foundation, and an entrepreneur. Joyce has experienced many uplifting moments as a professional and as a dedicated parent and strives to bring those events and lessons to life through her characters in the contemporary fiction novels she pens.