The Sounds of Home
I’ve been thinking about Home again. I’m beginning to really get behind the idea that home is a feeling and a sense and a mental attitude rather than a place. The latest addition to this is the role that sounds play in that feeling. Specifically I mean music and language.
I went to a local festival in town the other day. A section of street shorter than an uptown block in New York City was filled with all manner of food and drink stalls, tons of people on benches and three stages. The music was just fabulous. There was a white haired guy on a piano playing Jailhouse Rock with people dancing in the street. There was a calypso style band singing in German in the shadow of the old city gate. And I spent most of my time listening to a country-western setup. I am normally not a fan of the real twangy country, but it really reminded me of home to listen to this group belt out bluegrass, blues, honky-tonk and just plain ole’ country tunes. (even one country tune in German) I grew up in the south, but without the accent. Sure I kin twang wit’ th’ best o’ them, but I don’t naturally talk like that. But you know, listening to it tonight made me realize how much I miss hearing it.
I’ve noticed this phenomenon before. Often when I get homesick, I watch videos of folk singers online. The funny thing is that it reminds me of home, but when I was home I didn’t really care for it. So there has to be something about it that stirs up home-like feelings and these aren’t necessarily that same as things I like. Music and our accent seem to help define a part of us that sometimes we aren’t even aware of.
As I mentioned in my article on Doubt, the stress of the local language is one thing that is always present and slowly gets to me when I let it.
I live in a foreign country where English isn’t even the native language. Despite this I have a large group of english speaking friends and outside of the office I spend my time with them. One of things that struck me when moving here was all of the different flavors of English that we native speakers speak. I spend time with Kiwis and Englishmen, Canadians and Irish, and the odd Australian on top of the Germans that speak English. Even the Americans that I know here are from around the country and have different accents. Part of what makes the folk singers and the country band the other day so meaningful was indeed the accent. I missed the twangy southern accent of my youth, even though I don’t have it myself.
I love that I have so many english speaking friends and groups to hang out with. Because I have chosen to live here and be a part of the world here, it doesn’t feel like I am betraying the reason for being here. There is none of the “I live in a foreign place, I should spend my time doing foreign things.” This is my home now, so I should do what makes me happy. I don’t notice the accents of my friends as much anymore. Occasionally they say a word I don’t know, but it just gets brushed away with a “you talk funny, but I love ya’ll anyway.” It took ’til just t’other day at th’ fest-i-val to realize how much the local accent of my home had seeped into my brain and how cool it was to hear again.
Sing a Song
Music seems to go along with language in helping to define a culture. I remember a few weeks ago sitting around the table at my Kiwi friends’ house watching youtube. They would load a song or a comedy thing from New Zealand, then I would shout the name of one of my remembered bands and listen to them for a bit. It was neat to see that despite the common language the music really is different. It is in places just as folksy and twangy, but in a different way. Just for them different memories are attached to the music.
Folk music was really more of my dad’s thing when I was small. He loved it and I got to hear tons of it. Not that I disliked it, but as a teen it is uncool to like your dad’s music, especially in front of friends. Despite which even this music has seeped into my brain. As July 4 approaches again, I remember several years in a row the family going to a Mike Cross 4th of July Concert. He would play folk songs and jigs, that I would later learn were adapted from Irish tunes and ideas, and afterward fireworks. It is a cool set of memories that get dredged up when I hear “The Drunkard” or see fireworks.
So when I hear this music again, even the Texas or Tennessee style country, I remember childhood tunes. When I feel homesick I listen and remember and feel better. I still like my decision to be here. It is just cool to remember where I came from as well.
Does you crave hearing your own accent again after a while being away? How about music?
Interested in what my Kiwi friends and I were listening to? Here is a taste.
Mike Cross (Carolina): “The Drunkard”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8hp8ZjWTzc
Fred Dagg (New Zealand): “Gumboots”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2rqZfTJN7d8
July 11, 2010 @ 9:50 pm
I will be quite interested to hear your thoughts. It just seems that people can feel home in so many different unrelated physical places it must be mental.
July 8, 2010 @ 7:59 pm
Like Andi, I didn't think too much about “home” being a mental state–we moved a lot within Houston as I grew up, but I spent all of my first 18 years in the city, so I consider it my home. But you make a great point–when you're somewhere totally foreign, those little things that remind you of home can be so comforting. I was in the UK for a while in February, and after a while, I really missed hearing American accents and talking to locals who I could relate to more (though I had a blast with the Brits I hung out with!). Music definitely is a great way to transport you back somewhere.
July 5, 2010 @ 8:27 pm
Hmmm, I never thought about “home” being a mental state rather than a physical state. Very interesting idea! I need to think about that some more…
July 5, 2010 @ 4:59 pm
Yeah, I have been studying it since high school, one of the main reasons I picked to look here. It is just a very exact language, so to speak without errors is difficult. Noone cares about my mistakes usually but me, however after a while just having to think in a different frame gets tiring. I really liked Prague last time I went there. Lots of neat people to talk to, and Czech sounds so much nicer to my ears than German. Please look around, be interested in hearing your experiences in Czech Republic.
July 5, 2010 @ 9:10 am
It is, about smell and memory. I wrote a short piece on the 'scent of my childhood' in another blog, linking my mother's morning coffee brewing to my childhood.
A nice emotion triggering piece, Andrew. While I'm constantly itching with wanderlust, Manila will always be home. =)
July 4, 2010 @ 11:28 am
I was in a very small city in the southeastern corner of the country (but spent lots of time in Prague!). How great for you that you speak the language fluently. When I read the line about the stress of the local language, I assumed you were still learning. Sorry I misunderstood. I tried to learn Czech and could get by, but it was very difficult! I will have to read more on your blog because I'm interested to know where you are and what you do there. Germany must be a great place to live.
July 4, 2010 @ 8:13 am
Hi Jenna, thanks for the comment and encouragement. Wow, I bet Czech Republic was awesome in the late 90s. Prague?
I do speak German fluently. I work in it during the entire week and it is just very tiring. So I like to speak English on the weekends. I switch back and forth with no issues most days.
July 3, 2010 @ 9:00 pm
Andrew, I enjoyed reading about your experiences. Your post reminded me of when I lived in the Czech Republic back in the late 90's. One of the things that really helped me adjust was having friends who spoke English, both Czechs who spoke really well and expats from all over. Having friends from Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand was so fun! I tried to assimilate in many ways and had plenty of Czech friends, so having some expat friends never made me feel guilty– as you mentioned, when it's your home, you have to do what makes you happy.
I found that not learning the language fluently was isolating in the long run. Good luck with it, and with time it will come more and more naturally.
July 3, 2010 @ 2:53 pm
Interesting post. Language and sound are so tied to memory and identity. Here in Italy, I can speak Italian and understand the language, but there is nothing like hearing lost Americans that I guess makes me feel a little bit less alone. Traveling last week through Norway, they had all of these shows on cowboys from Colorado. It made me miss my home, but like you said, for some reason when you are surrounded by those sounds and scenery, you don't really miss it at all.
July 3, 2010 @ 5:21 am
Wow, thanks for the beautiful compliment. I like that quote too. Smell is another sense on my mind, but I've yet to be able to write about it. There is a used bookstore in Chapel Hill that will always smell like a relaxing Saturday afternoon to me.
July 2, 2010 @ 8:51 pm
Without music life would be a mistake- a quote I heard from somewhere and so true. Music, like smell, takes me instantly to a time and place in my stored memory bank and invokes so many beautiful feelings. It's like you can live that inspired moment over and over again through just one song. Great post again Andrew. We think in such similar ways