Over the past month, I have picked up a bad habit — I scroll through social media before I fall asleep. When I opened Facebook last night, one of the first things I saw was a post of The 5 Browns playing Sleigh Ride. (Note For Non-Music Folks: The 5 Browns is a group of siblings who play piano together, and they’re quite famous.) Listening made me smile, but also made me cry. I feel like it’s a new normal for me, because somehow my brain finds a way to connect everything to Emily just like people used to play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.
We Bonded Over Music
I vividly remember the moment Emily and I realized the full extent of our mutual love of music. We were waiting for Lizzo to take the stage at the TWLOHA concert in Nashville on Saturday, November 30, 2019. One of the people behind us was had been randomly talking to us on and off throughout the concert, and Emily turned to me and said, “He’s definitely a former band kid… what instrument do you think he plays?” which, of course, prompted me to ask her what instrument she played. As soon as she said, “I play the oboe,” my face lit up and I said, “Oh, we have to play duets together sometime!”
I later learned she not only played oboe, but also played piano and sang in choir regularly. I was so excited to have another friend who enjoyed music, and I couldn’t wait to find excuses to make joyful noise together. And, over the years we had together, we definitely did that.
We played oboe and flute duets together several times, both in my apartment and her parents’ house. In fact, I even have videos we recorded of ourselves playing duets together at my place during the pandemic (see above). We also sat around the piano together whenever we visited Emily’s parents. Sometimes Emily would play, and I’d listen, while other times she’d play something, and we’d sing. I loved the fact that we could just have fun together making music.
As the kids started to learn the guitar and piano, we also involved them in our fun sometimes. I remember one day in particular when Emily said, “Wouldn’t it be fun if we all sat in the living room and took turns playing things for each other?” So we did! It eventually turned into us teaching each other how to play everyone’s instrument, and we smiled and laughed so much that day.
Emily and I had also found a community orchestra to make music with outside the home. The group rehearses on Monday nights, which worked perfectly with our schedule. We got through an entire concert season with them and had been going to rehearsals for a fall concert before Emily passed.
The Music We Never Got To Play
One place Emily really wanted us to perform music together was church. She’d been bugging me to get involved with music at our home church since we first started attending together. I recently joined the handbell choir this fall, and our music director had asked Emily and I to play flute and oboe alongside the choir for the anthem they were singing on November 6. We had the music, and we were excited. Of course, that all changed on October 19.
I still performed because I knew Emily would have wanted me to, but it was hard. The oboe player our music director found was very sweet, but she wasn’t Emily… and it broke my heart.
Hindsight is 20/20, but I really wish I’d found more ways for us to play together. I just always assumed it was one of those things we would be doing together until we were too old to play anymore. We’d both joked that when we retired, we would probably have a daily time when we sat down together and made joyful noise in some shape or form.
Because of Emily, I got to enjoy doing something I love with someone I love. It truly made my heart so happy, and I’ll cherish the memories (and videos) I have of us playing together for the rest of my life.