I recently had the pleasure of speaking with one of our Flat community members, Debbie. At age 70, her love of music is only growing, and she was kind enough to talk about her history with music, discovering Flat, and the gratitude she feels for having composing as a creative outlet. Her enthusiasm can only be described as inspiring, and we’re so glad to have a community made up of so many different voices and sounds, while still being driven by some shared truths about why music is so important in our lives.
Give us a bit of background by introducing yourself?
My name is Debbie, I’m 70 years old, and I live in Wisconsin. My husband and I moved here in 1979, after meeting in Omaha where I was a nurse and he was a family practice resident. Although he became a small-town doctor, he was also a true farmer. Today we have 7 children, 25 grandchildren, and tons of laughter!
How does music fit into your life?
My day simply isn’t complete without music.
It’s such a big part of my life: how I relax, think, cry, work… It’s a glue that holds my day together. In terms of playing, as a kid I took two years of piano lessons, but I’m definitely not very strong in that! But much later when my youngest went off to college, I was driving by a musical instrument store and stopped on the spur of the moment. I rented a violin and started taking lessons, first with Suzuki and later doing Irish fiddling. I really love the Irish style since so much of it is done by ear.
What kind of music did you grow up with?
I was the youngest of four children, and we were spaced quite a few years apart so I heard lots of different musical eras. Elvis, Ricky Nelson, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Dylan, the Temptations, Simon and Garfunkel, Peter, Paul and Mary… We also listened to classical music and folk music, plus musicals – Rodgers and Hammerstein were wonderful, so was Leonard Bernstein. Church hymns were always around too, and I sang in our church choir all the way through high school as a second soprano. I’d sing with my mother, who was an alto, I’d sing the melody and she’d sing the harmony. Now I almost always harmonize when I sing, and I also found I could harmonize with the violin, which is pure joy!
Is music important for the rest of your family?
Yes! All of my children have been involved in music, some more than others. In our small town, band is a big deal, and all my children played instruments: baritone, percussion, oboe, flute, trumpet… Most tried the piano, but two of them were really great at it, ending up playing at church. Most of my children also love to sing, although some of them are more open about it than others. One of my sons wrote a lot of rap songs, a few of my grandchildren are doing piano or vocals. We even have one or two who are hoping to make it to Broadway!
What’s your current musical project?
I’m writing a lullaby on Flat, to go along with a poem I wrote in 2004. I’d called it the Lamb’s Lullaby, and thought writing some music for it would be easy. But… [laughs] I do think if children sang it, it would sound sweet!
It’s all part of a more general project, since I write poems for our family Christmas cards and I’ll hear music in my head as I write them. This one is a story about lambs going along their way with their mother, looking for the Baby Jesus. Once we’d had 5 lambs on our farm, we had to bottle feed them, and they made such an impression on me. One bonded with me so much that he wouldn’t sleep until I put the arm of my jacket in with him.
So a lot of what I’m working on now is just adding music to my poems, to have a whole children’s book. It’s a simple book, I also cut images out to add as illustrations, it’s so much fun.
How else does music affect your life?
It can be a kind of commemoration, remembrance if you will. I discovered Flat during the pandemic, which was a strange time. My father died back in 1961 when I was almost 9, and by 8th grade I was the only child left at home with my mom. I was very protective of her, I admired her so much. One of my favorite memories is sitting at our piano, her playing by ear songs she’d written over the years, mostly about her life with my sweet father. Nothing was ever written down.
Then she died in 2006, at the age of 97. I had those songs in my head and decided I needed to actually write them down. Thanks to my singing with her back then, I could piece the melody together, along with some interesting chords and rhythms that went with them. It all reflected the eras it came from, the 1930s-60s. I rediscovered how charming they were, love songs, songs about my dad coming home from business trips, Dad coming home, as all the other dads, from WWII (that one included the line, “Santa’s coming home this year!”).
Like I said, I only took piano for two years when I was very young, so my piano skills are weak! But with Flat I could work with the harmonies and rhythms until they sounded RIGHT! Then I found my mom’s poem about Christmas, 1961, 6 months after my dad died. It was called “Life is like a symphony” and it needed music, so I decided to write for it. It showed her incredible strength and faith in God, even after her world fell apart. I ended up putting all those songs in a book with some pictures of her life, and gave it to all of her children and grandchildren.
Any final thoughts you’d like to share with the Flat community?
I’m so grateful for this site, it’s all about learning. From the first song I wrote down in Flat, which was one of my mom’s, until now, I’ve learned so much. For a simple music lover like me, it allowed me to just try! I might be an amateur, but sometimes what you gain really is the process. My mom used to say, “If you squint, it looks pretty good!” Well, maybe if your ears could squint, it sounds kind of good-ish! So thank you, and thank you for allowing me to share - it’s hard to put everything that music means to me into words, it’s been my constant companion throughout my life, and I’m so thankful for that.
See you next time!