Hi. I’m Jeremy. I’m a student, a skier, and a brother to three younger siblings, but above all else, I’m a musician. To me, music is an emotional outlet, an escape, a way to connect and reconnect with myself, and a way talk to others. I play piano and flute, as well as steel drums and a bit of oboe, clarinet, and trumpet, and also compose a fair amount, so there is always something to keep me sane. I listen to a variety of genres, from classical to jazz to modern EDM-type stuff to simple solo piano. Though this may seem like a wide range of unrelated music, everything I listen to shares one common aspect: it’s all entirely instrumental.
You see, when I listen to a song, I don’t like to be told what it’s about. Instead, I like to be free to interpret the story that the song tells based on the emotion the piece invokes, and fill in the blanks on my own, or learn them elsewhere. I’m fine with there being a concrete, specific story or interpretation by the composer, but I don’t like that view to be forced upon me in the song; I need for nothing to come between me and the raw, pure music. With that in mind, I view my composition as a way to translate a story directly into music, and as with translations into other languages, other meanings and interpretations may spring up along the way. I’ve told parts of the Odyssey, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Book Thief through music, and found that people who heard the song but nothing else, not even a title, are usually able to tell me what the song is about, and often, their interpretations have the same adjectives as the original story – tragic, lonely, imperial.
When I first started writing my song for this class, I didn’t have a story to tell. So, I sat down when I was tired, when emotions blend together and become overwhelming, took an interesting phrase I’d read somewhere (Trembling, Shivering Star), and wrote something that indeed did invoke emotion, but it was more or less meaningless. Sure, I could make up a story, but it’s not the same when you’re the composer. On another note, it was also the first piece I had ever written for full orchestra. I play flute in a local youth symphony, and know the conductor well, so I talked to her and arranged to play and record my new piece in our next rehearsal, giving me time to revise, which was my major GOA assignment for the week.
Then, two days after our Monday rehearsal, I got an email. “It is with great sadness we must inform you about an unfortunate event affecting our ___ family. One of our _____cellists, ____, passed away today. It is an honor to work with each and every student in ___ and to experience such a loss is heartbreaking.
Teenagers don’t just die. I suspected suicide the moment I read the email, and later, my suspicions were confirmed. I didn’t know her personally, but I believe that I know her because I’m so similar. Quiet and shy, but also passionate, possibly to a dangerous degree. Able to open up around a few close friends, but otherwise asocial. And most importantly, depressed. I don’t know for sure, but I relate to her far too well for that not to be the case. I’ve had those days, those weeks, where I’m so closed, so vulnerable, in need of help and support, but too scared, too embarrassed to ask for it. On the edge, scared I’ll go over with the slightest push.
In my opinion, the best thing you can do to help someone considering self-harm or suicide is to make it known that you are there to talk. Whether they are a friend who you suspect may be considering such a thing, or a total stranger, the key is to be open. I have several close friends who I text when I feel down, and always having them right in my pocket has helped me more than I can describe. I can’t say for sure, but there is a possibility that they have saved my life. Some of them know for sure, others only suspect, but they’ve been there for me when I’ve needed it most, and so I’ve tried to reciprocate the help as best I can for another friend. If you don’t know how to recognize the symptoms in someone you know, I strongly recommend a quick google search. Beyond that, it’s hard to give specific instructions, but awareness is a crucial first step when trying to help someone close to you. On the flipside, mostly for more extroverted people, it’s possible to help people even if you don’t know them well. In the rehearsal following the news, several people put up their names and phone numbers, and publicly announced that if anyone needed to talk about anything, ever, they could just call. While that takes a kind of bravery that I don’t have, I really appreciated the gesture, and have thought of that since when I’ve felt down. Just the feeling that there are people willing to talk, people who care, people who will be impartial or at least logical with you is a great help.
With that in mind, here’s the song that I revised and completed in the emotional turmoil following the loss of a member of my orchestral family. It was my way to focus and recover from my own grief, my way to remember her, and a way to help my orchestra recover, too.
1-800-273-8255 is the national suicide prevention hotline for the US, others can be found here.
Thank you so much for reading.