Usually the sudden burst of melody emanating from the red clock-posts scattered around campus is comforting. Their brief renditions of American classics (Swanee River makes a frequent appearance, for example) let me know whether I am on time or running late–I am reluctant to say that I am never in danger of being early–and provide me with humming material for the rest of the day.
Not this Monday.
Usually the songs are familiar enough that I am able to identify them quasi-instantaneously. On Monday, those familiar bells began to chime an especially beautiful melody. I was overcome with how beautiful it was, but I could not place where I had heard it. I hummed it incessantly throughout Biology of Food when it suddenly hit me:
Now, what was the name of that love song? That ballad whose reincarnation had begun reverberating off of my limestone and combat-booted surroundings at exactly ten o’clock Monday, November 11th and had not stopped but been sublimated into the sound of my muffled humming for thirty agonizing minutes of neuron-racking against the droning soundtrack of my Biology of Food lecture?
Like any self-respecting college student, my smart phone was immediately on hand (and by on hand I mean courteously semi-covered under the flip-down partial writing desk attached to my seat). Knowing that I was at the mercy of the capricious university wireless network and a basement classroom, I was unprepared for the immediacy of the answer to my morning’s puzzle–
Flash back several months: A suburban theater’s seats provide rest to a midsummer audience whose median age was not 55 as it should have been but instead approximately 30 because of the presence of a girl, me, who was oblivious to the irregularity with which her blond hair disrupted a sea of neatly aligned human Q-tips as she eagerly absorbed every second of South Pacific, one of the last remaining members of a small group of mid-century spectaculars that had managed to evade her insatiable childhood appetite for Hollywood musicals. Three hours of rapture later, it was clear that her parents had made a grave error in throughout the various Blockbusters, libraries, and public television commercials where they had vocalized their personal admonitions regarding the movie’s excessive length. Excessively long or not, it was wonderful.
I was dazzled by it for several days, and then college dominated my mind and South Pacific faded once again into the background. I hardly even remembered that I had seen a live performance and that it was no longer an unexplored musical mystery.
Not yet able to replace the morning’s humble bell tones with the lyrics, I continued humming relentlessly throughout the rest of a long day of classes, appointments, and orchestra. Until, I found myself in the solitude of my dorm room. I closed the door, sat down at my desk, opened my laptop, waited for the wireless internet to connect, navigated my way to YouTube, found a recording of the song, listened, and proceeded to cry uncontrollably.
I have no explanation. I have no excuse. I only have gratitude for Rodgers and Hammerstein for writing something so beautiful that for two minutes and forty-one seconds of this endless week, I was able to cry with unadulterated abandon.
Whoever programs the IU clock-posts is wise. This song doesn’t get enough credit today.
Listen to it. You might not cry. In fact, you almost certainly won’t even feel any identifiable tug of your tear ducts. But listen. Close your eyes. Forget the specifics of the recording: Erase all you might know about Reba McEntire and Brian Stokes Mitchel and public television and Rodgers and Hammerstein and South Pacific. Erase it all and just press play. Let the music fill up the space that you’ve created.
I promise that at the very least it won’t leave you un-effected.