Exploring MA Music: A Form of Connection

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Music is woven into the fabric of the lives of Marin Academy musicians. It stretches back into the deepest parts of their personal histories, to their earliest memories. But when they look back far enough they can recall, with surprising lucidity, some initial musical experience. Perhaps it is no coincidence that each of the stories they told was shared with other people and that they can be recalled so clearly.  What is the point of music if not to express yourself to others, and to bring people together? Though each of the four musicians I talked to had their own story, their own tastes, their own fortés, they all shared this belief: music connect

Like many cultural institutions, rights of passage, or behaviors, music is typically introduced to us in the domestic realm. Before we develop our own tastes, before we develop our own private relationship with music and attach to it meanings of our own, we hear the music of our parents, and the music is not yet the subject of intense scrutiny or dissection, it is simply heard, shared amongst the members of the family unit, the eventual soundtrack to memories of the tightly bound unit of the family in early childhood.

For senior Javi Esquivel music’s first recorded arrival was, “when I was four, my dad bought a really big stereo and speakers set up for our living room. And he played Christopher Cross. . . . [the] speakers were all surround sound and a speaker in each corner. And we had a couch right in the middle. So we, he just would sit down in the middle of the couch and then I would sit next to them. that’s just what we did. We just chilled there. Just listen. Close your eyes.”


Bella Bromberg, center, sees songwriting as a way to “unleash her emotions.” Photo courtesy of Bella.

Senior Bella Bromberg’s earliest memory of music is certainly childish, but it also contains the purity of a kid. In her recollection I could sense the simplicity of a gesture intended to entertain: “[my earliest memory of music was] singing like Disney princess songs with my sisters around the house. That was a big thing for me growing up. And my sister Chiara and I would put on plays for our parents. So we would learn all the harmonies to A Whole New World. And then I would dress up a lot in and we would perform for our family.”


For all the education received about music, for all the rehearsing and listening and observation of the classics, it is impossible to remove the emotions that lie atits core, and no matter how advanced or complex someone’s tastes become as listening to “good” music becomes a priority, it is impossible to forget the music to which important memories have become affixed. I asked Layne, an acolyte at the altar of Miles Davis what album he would take with him to a desert island, provided he could bring only one: “Honestly I think it would probably be the first Arctic Monkeys record. As funny as that is because obviously, I mean there’s a bunch of jazz albums I would totally bring with me, but that album, it came out when I was young and that was a big part of those Kid’s CDs. … For me, those songs are just so nostalgic and internalized and have so many memories behind them. And just, I think that album is just a perfect album.”

The beauty of music is in its democracy, in the way it cleaves away the barriers of the spoken and written word, in the way a melody can instantly and forcefully make you bear witness to someone’s private ecstasies, or bring you into the dregs of their despair. Javi conceived of music in these terms, as a language more effective than any other: “music is this language and being able to speak it or play music enables a group of people who may have never met, couldn’t speak, from completely different native towns and native languages, it gives them a chance to actually communicate.”

Layne Ulrich has played music since he was in third grade; the bass since he was in fifth grade. Photo courtesy of Layne.


And what better conduit is there to deliver music to people than that of the live performance. The concert sizzles with energy and potential; in both the audience and the performers there exists a potent mix of nervousness and anticipation. At their best, concerts are the venue for ephemeral displays of beauty: for oneness between the crowd, the performer, and the music. Layne seemed attuned to this, to the potential of a concert, to what it means to perform for people: “Part of me, I’m always thinking about the technical aspect of it, like, how it sounds, technique, that sort of thing. And then the other half is thinking, how’s it feeling? What’s the energy like, how can we build this up? … how’s it feeling with the audience? Cause that’s such a big part of performing too is interacting with the audience… For me it’s an exciting, nervous, and  generally great thing to perform for people ‘cause it’s like getting to share [something]. Because for me, I feel I love music so much and it’s like getting to share my passion with people in whatever shape that takes on.”

To play music can also be to connect to your fellow performers. Junior Asher Etlin said that his favorite part of music was: “I’d say getting to do what other people are just like the people that have gone into play it with. Just getting to meet a lot of my friends that I’ve made through the music program, not just from being in a band,  it’s class and like jamming I lead like PB and jam club.”

Junior Asher Etlin performing. Asher said that his favorite part of music was the friendships he had formed. Photo courtesy of Asher.


If music is language, a means of expression, then it is true that it can exist both as monologue and dialogue. Playing music can be like a conversation with a friend, but it can also be the isolation, the self-reflection of a private journal. For Bella Bromberg, it is the latter. Ever since she was a kid, she said, writing songs was a way to express her emotions: “If I’m ever having a stressful day or even a really good day. Just getting on the piano and like messing around is the way I like to unleash my emotions.”

I entered into this article with the too-ambitious goal of understanding music, its seemingly alchemical ability to bring joy to people, to convey emotion. I thought that my lack of understanding about music stemmed from my relationship to it, from the fact that I knew music only as a listener. To speak to those who created music, I believed, would be to pull back the curtain, to see music as it is, to understand it. This was not what happened. Instead, I came to see music, like many of the most essential human practices, to be both something universal and something to which each person has their own personal relationship. It can be understood only as something shared between people of all varieties, between the past and the present, between different regions of the psyche.