Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Mountain Melodies

For nearly four decades, Casey Kasem hosted the American Top 40 radio show which was a countdown of the most popular songs in the country.  One of the signature characteristics of this weekly broadcast was the long distance dedication, a segment in which Casey would read a letter highlighting a significant relationship between the author of the letter and another individual and which ended in a request for a specific song to be played in honor of that relationship.

Although I don’t remember any of the specifics from these letters and long distance dedications, what I do remember is the sensuous tone of Casey Kasem’s voice as he held his audience spellbound by the story in the letter.  It was if a hushed silence had fallen over all America and thousands of people were sitting around the glow of the radio dial breathlessly listening to the story unfold.  I would imagine that we, the audience, would collectively wipe away the single tear rolling down our cheek on the sad stories or would share the sigh and smile that accompanied the sweet and loving story.  Then the song would play and we would be left alone in our thoughts and eventually, through the music, be brought back to reality and out of our emotional trance.

Music is one of those universal cultural elements.  We use it to celebrate and to mourn.  We use it to worship and to protest.  We use it to give our opinions and to ask questions.  We use it to tell stories and to record our history.  Our experiences and emotions have an impact on music and music, in turn, has an impact on our experiences and emotions.  Just as the scent of a freshly cut lawn can carry us back to memories of summer days, music also, has the ability to transport us to a time and place in our past complete with all the emotions and visual images that play across the screen of our inner mind. 

Why one particular song will attach itself so strongly to a memory and another does not I cannot explain and will leave that question to the neurologist and psychologist to answer.  But, for most of us, the association of song and sentiment are a fact of life that we both embrace and resent.   For we know that the music, randomly playing on its own, can arbitrarily lift our spirits or send us into an emotional pit of despair and sadness.  Therefore, we often control the songs that we will hear to control our own emotional state.  Such is the case for the long distance hiker in making song selections that will be carried while on the trail.

Now, first of all, I must say that not all hikers carry music on the trail and some find it downright offensive to bring this artificial source of sound into the natural environment that they intend to experience.  General trail etiquette maintains that if you bring music on the trail, that it is to be confined to the range of your own hearing or at the very least, that you give consideration to those who wish to enjoy an unaltered natural state the courtesy of curtailing your music until you part ways.  Also, with the long distance hiker’s concern for the amount of gear they must carry, the means to play the music of choice is another matter to be given serious thought.  Do you really want to carry around another piece of equipment that needs batteries or that bad weather could destroy?  Is having music on your hike worth the added weight and worry with regard to loss, damage or theft?

At first, I had no intention of taking music with me on my hike.  I enjoy listening to music as much as the next person, but I very rarely play music when I am out camping.  We are so inundated with man-made sounds in our day to day lives, that I usually appreciate the break from it all when I’m outdoors.  The birds provide quite a bit of music as do many other elements of nature such as the babbling brook, the wind whispering through the pines or the chattering squirrel upset with my presence.  But there is a lot of difference between a few day camping trip and six months on the trail. 

What would it be like to not hear any music for six months?  Could I do that?  Yes, I could, but do I WANT to go without it for that long?  My singing from memory is only going to satisfy me for so long before I’m sick of the sound of my own voice, then what?  Maybe hearing the occasional music over the speakers in a store, from a passing car or from someone else’s device or instrument would be enough.  Maybe, but it could just as easily be a style of music or song that causes me to wish I hadn’t heard it as one that I might enjoy.  What would be the benefits of bringing music along with me?  Well, for one thing, I could use the music for motivation, to increase speed or inspire myself when I get tired.  I can use the music to make emotional adjustments, ward off depression and loneliness or just to brighten the fifth bleak, rainy day of the week.  I can use the music to break up the monotony of picking them up and putting them down day after day after day.  I can use the music to celebrate accomplishments and to worship my Creator for the beauty of the creation around me.  Yes, the benefits could far outweigh the negatives. 

So, once again I find myself acquiring a new piece of technology, at least new to me, for my trip.  I have purchased a Sony W Series MP3 player with 2 GB of memory.  After doing some research, I selected this item because it does not have a screen like most MP3 players which will allow the battery to last much longer.  Also, this is a model designed for runners and is worn over the ears rather than carried, clipped or strapped onto the belt or body.  With a combined weight of 1.9 ounces for the player and USB charging cord I don’t think the weight will be an issue and I have 320 songs recorded to the memory with room for more.  I’m sure that many people and most of the younger generation would opt for a device with more storage and features but I’m quite satisfied with the simplicity and capacity of my selection.  It certainly is an amazing upgrade for an old school gal like me who still has cases of cassette tapes in the house.

One of my sons often critiques my taste in music by saying that I quit listening to new music thirty years ago.  While his opinion is a bit extreme, there is an element of truth to it; I prefer listening to music from the 1950s through 1980s over most music produced today.  Of course, this is a common generational issue, but I do have a hard time relating to some of the music of today and a lot of it I find just plain distasteful.  Of the modern genres, I lean toward contemporary Christian or country, but outside of that, most of the time, the older music will most often be playing on my truck radio or on the stereo in the house.  The tunes fit like a pair of old comfortable shoes and I can actually sing along with the lyrics.

While I sincerely hope that no one on the trail hears me singing out loud as I’m afraid they will think there is some critically injured animal in the area, I suspect that over the course of nearly 2,200 miles, I will let my guard down and at some point, this warbling walker will be thoroughly embarrassed by the discovery of my audience.  Over the years, to prevent my sad solos from being heard or to prevent being ticketed for noise pollution, I have gotten quite good at lip-syncing.  Of course, those skills are enhanced with my ensemble of air guitar, air drums and various other air instrumentals and a whole range of struts, bobs, glides and weaves that don’t resemble anything that could be mistaken for graceful dance moves.  I can only hope that I don’t scare some poor unsuspecting fellow hiker into calling 9-1-1 because he thinks I’m having a seizure and may require immediate medical attention when he sees me bee-bopping down the trail.

Lots of good music is designed to make you feel like moving your feet and in this case, that’s exactly what I want to happen.  The songs I have on my MP3 player have been specifically selected to meet one of several criteria.  Does the song give me a good or happy feeling?  Is it a song that I enjoy singing?  Does the song “pump me up” and give me energy or motivate me to keep trying or to go on?  Does the song remind me of a favorite place, time or person that makes me smile?  Is the song specifically related to the mountain environment?  Does the song fit the awesome views I anticipate seeing?  Does the song express my grateful heart for having this opportunity or is it an expression of thanks to my God for his creation?  Does the song have anything to do with rain, thunder or storms? 

I’m sure with the information I’ve provided so far, you can probably guess some of the titles in my MP3 library, but I will confirm your suspicions and say yes, Rocky Top, Rocky Mountain High and Rocky’s, Eye of the Tiger are all included.  My 30 year class reunion will be held in August and I should be somewhere in northern New England at that time.  While I haven’t decided if I will rent a car and drive back down to PA for the event, I have included the Statler Brothers’, Class of ’57 to remind me of all my classmates.  They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Betty Davis Eyes and The Locomotion each reminds me of special people in my life, namely two of my girlfriends and my mom.  Of course, the ultimate woman’s motivational song, Gloria Gaynor’s, I Will Survive made the list.  Chris Tomlin’s, I Will Rise and Casting Crowns’, Voice of Truth lift me up.  How Great Thou Art has always been one of my favorites and with the lyrics of the second verse being:

                When through the woods and forest glades I wander
                And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees,
                When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
                And see the brook and feel the gentle breeze;

how could I leave it out?  And, of course, my family would be in shock if there wasn’t a plethora of tunes included from the happiest place on earth, Walt Disney World. 

It may be an odd mix of music, but as Francesca Battistelli says in her lyrics, I’m free to be me and this collection makes up my own form of a long distance dedication; it’s dedicated to all the relationships I’ve had over the years of my life including my relationship with the beautiful Appalachian Mountains.  So, I will follow Casey Kasem’s advice, “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars" while I do The Hustle across the heights of Appalachia.