Music to Help You Score With Smart People: Off Key Humming


I love jazz festivals. I love festival crowds. What really get me is when a small geographical area is crowded with people who all have something in common. Strangers are more likely to smile at you, and you at them, because you know that chances are good that you share an obsession. I’ve only noticed two important differences between European and North American festivals. In North America, you sometimes need to drive between venues, whereas in Europe the shows tend to be within walking distance of one another. In Europe, at least in post-communist central Europe, it’s permissible to drink on the streets, which can be very nice in the summer.

I’m a very mediocre saxophonist, but I have been lucky enough to play at two major jazz festivals, Jazz Na Ulice (Jazz on the Streets) in Plzen, in the Czech Republic; and The Gibsons Landing Jazz Festival on the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia, Canada. In both cases, playing at the festival gave me the opportunity to jam with seriously talented professional musicians. In Canada and in the Czech Republic the great musicians were unfailingly kind and encouraging to my friends and I, rather than lording it over us.

Last September, I drove about an hour to visit the Pender Harbour Jazz Festival. There was a good jazz quartet playing in Garden Bay. It was a beautiful sunny day, and they were playing outside, on a wooden dock near the water. We were sitting on chairs on a grassy hill above the dock. The band played very well, especially the bass player. Unfortunately, there was an older man sitting next to me who liked to hum. He hummed and sang along with the theme to every song that the band played. His humming and singing were always just a little off-key, so that his singing mixed with the music made a very sour and unpleasant sound. Between songs, the older man spoke to me. He spoke about the musicians and the songs that they were playing. The man was a big fan of jazz music, and I agreed with most of his opinions. I didn’t want to ask him to stop singing. He was a nice man and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.

After a while I found that if I listened to the man’s humming, if I concentrated on it, would ruin the song that the band was playing. If I concentrated on the band, then the humming didn’t seem so bad.

About half way through the jazz quartet’s concert, something really marvellous happened. Two great blue herons flew into the bay. The herons flew around the dock and the bay for twenty minutes, while beautiful jazz filled the air. While the herons were flying, the older man’s humming didn’t bug me at all.

In some ways, my life now is a lot like that concert. In real life, I run a camp and retreat centre. I am very busy all summer. My girlfriend waited patiently all summer for my work schedule to slow down, so that we could do all of the things that we enjoy doing together: Swimming, hiking, going to concerts, going to films, live theatre, and art shows. We were looking forward to travelling a little, catching a lot of great music, and just generally enjoying each other’s company.

But, I got kind of ill at the end of the summer. I am not yet 40 years old, but I developed painful and debilitating condition called gout, which is typically more of a middle-aged man’s disease. Gout makes it difficult to get around, and the medication that helps get rid of gout tend to really drain my energy. Three times since the summer ended, I have felt like it was finally out of my system, only to have it come back even worse than before.

Now, even though my workload is really pretty light, I don’t always have the energy to do all of the things that my girlfriend and I had planned to do together. Luckily for me, she is that one woman in a million who also enjoys Japanese Professional Wrestling and Classical Music. So we watch tapes and DVDs and listen to CDs, and once in a while we manage to make it out to a show. We go out for a meal from time to time, and we even managed to make it to San Francisco for a vacation. Still, there are a ton of things that we were looking forward to doing together, and we can’t do many of them now because I’m just not healthy enough. For example, we didn’t make it out to the Pender Harbour Jazz Festival this year.

I think that the disease is something like the older man’s humming slightly off-key. If I concentrate on it, could spoil everything. If I concentrate on my interesting life and all of the beautiful things around me, it might not be so bad.

One of the great things about music is that it can take your mind off of your problems.

Listening to Skip James, for example, can help me to remember that a lot of people have had it a lot worse than I ever will. Listening to Mozart can help me to remember how glorious and holy it is to be alive. Listening to Miles Davis can help me to make the connection between the two. Listening to the music that I love can distract me from how lousy it feels to be sick the same way that watching those herons distracted me from the nice old man’s off key humming. The beautiful thing about it is, as soon as I get distracted from what is bugging me, I almost immediately begin to notice a lot of stuff that makes me feel really good.

Here are some more people who like to write about their love of music.

For other people, it’s games that disract them from the things that bug them.

For others, it’s comics, Sports, TV, Movies, or Figures.

Whatever it is that helps you through the hard times, I hope we’ve got you covered.