Breathe In, Sing Out
Behind the open mic
By Sophie Capp; art by KK Braza
Ambient sounds are shut out, like when someone flicks a switch and the lights take a second too long to turn off. I am aware of the noise, and then it is gone. Everything in my chest hardens before exploding out of my joints and my throat, and then whatever caused me such petrifying anxiety before is suddenly visible, sitting in the air around me. A bubble of nerves. Now I step forward, and it is behind me—a bubble with a cutout of me. Then the sound flicks back on, but this time the people are quiet. The music is loud. The ambient noises are echoes of notes instead of human whispers. They rush from wall to wall and ear to ear, like they’re racing to become the most tangible sound. I turn to face the crowd, and I am present.
There is nothing so intimate as sharing music with a room of people. Nothing makes me feel more connected to another person than sitting in one place and listening to the same song. You feel different things and understand it in different ways, but that one song will always remind you of that moment and the people you spent it with. That’s incredible.
I grew up in a small, upper class, ultra-conservative town not far from the Colorado College bubble, where your church was your community and your sports team was your identity. The music scene consisted of the people who trucked up to the Pepsi Center for muscle-tee Keith Urban, Toby Keith and Co. (Nothing against the Keiths—the muscle tees always work—it was more the 16-year-olds getting speeding tickets in their brand new Audis on the way to see them that threw me off). I grew up thinking music taste consisted of classic jazz, piano sonatas and Harry for the Holidays albums, which my dad played in our house. I wasn’t surrounded by a variety of sounds that allowed me to pick out what I liked and what I didn’t. I just ate from the Top 40 songs feeding out the left speaker of my ‘92 Suburu Legacy when I thought my music major father wasn’t paying attention.
After a year and a half at CC, I found a surprising range of music preferences in our student body, and I am proud to say I have some taste now. A good song comes on and I stop what I’m doing. I soak it up. Then, I usually add it to my current favorites playlist and listen to it on repeat for hours. I have at least four or five of these favorites playlists from the last two years. Choose any song on any list, and I can pin down the precise moment I breathed it in. Think about breathing. Just taking air in and then letting it out. Are you thinking about it? Listen to the air flowing through your body. In. And out. Did it suddenly become a little more difficult? Maybe. Perhaps it at least made it harder to focus on other things at the same time. So when I think about a song, I actually focus harder on hearing it, and then it’s more difficult to focus on other things. The nuances of its pulses, harmonies and layers are suddenly much bigger and more complex. Usually, a hard beat and a soft voice/leading line catch my attention. If I had to decide on an underlying theme of the music I listen to, that would be it. Slow jams are my jam.
When I think mainstream Top 40, I think Los Angeles, Brooklyn, Nashville—the places to be if you’re going to be a part of a successful music scene. But what exactly qualifies as successful here? Monetary value? Fame? Five million followers on Twitter? We could go into a long discussion of how to determine when an artist “makes it,” but in my opinion, my art is successful if I’m simply doing it. If I am consistently producing work that gets better and better, and I’m sharing it with a group of people, then I am successful. If I finish something—that’s exciting.
I sat down with Heather Browne, Colorado College’s study-abroad coordinator, a few weeks ago to talk about her involvement over the last ten years in Colorado Springs music scene. When she moved here from San Francisco, she started a music blog called “I Am Fuel, You Are Friends” to maintain a virtual community with her friends back home. A few years later, she held her first house show with a band of friends travelling from Portland. She says she still remembers how she wrote about that experience. “It was the difference between kissing somebody in a club at night and kissing them in your kitchen in the morning with the bright sunlight coming in the window.”
I’ve also discovered a similar honesty in my experience with the local music community. We are surrounded by so many student bands who are writing their own stuff. They’re going for it: writing music and putting it out there for us in small, extremely cramped houses. (Randy and the Reptiles has one song called “Blueberry Hill” that I love, as well as one called “Oedipus Blues” that I have an unexpected fondness for…) It’s intimate. We know these people, so we consistently show up where they play. Heather described how a small music community allows her to feel more invested and involved than she ever could in Brooklyn or San Francisco. In those places, when you have a million shows to choose from, you’ll go to the ones you want to hear and that you know already.
Both the Springs and CC have small, quickly budding music scenes. But again and again, as students and staff at CC have observed with other organizations and departments, they don’t mix. The bubble is hard to puncture. And again, I wonder why this bubble is so intact. Perhaps it lies in something else Heather mentioned: “If we want a vibrant music scene we have to get off our asses and go to venues in town. This is a good place both to be a musician and for people that are willing to really jump in and be a part of it—you’re giving as much as you’re taking.” I’ve had to work hard to get my friends and acquaintances to show up to a house party where my band is playing a block away from campus, let alone come out for an open mic night at The Wild Goose. However, once they do make it out with me, those moments tend to stick with them. Sharing music builds incomparable memories, and I hope to be a part of a community that actively does so.
It’s amazing how I associate so much with one song. I still remember sitting cross-legged on a dog bed right next to a speaker listening to “Hard Day’s Night” by the Beatles, feeling excited to hear something other than classical piano in my house. I binged on Hilary Duff’s “Come Clean” and felt rebellious because it wasn’t my parents’ music, and she sang about kissing boys. I felt left out in the seventh grade because on roller-blading gym day all the other girls knew the words to Nickelback’s “Rockstar.” I had no idea who they were—I went home and learned all the words. I promptly attempted to forget them. Born Ruffians’ “Needle” was playing as I tried desperately to make it up a very slick, snow packed hill in a mini van. R. Kelly’s “Ignition Remix” played when I realized I was passing as a much older and wiser human being than I really was during my first semester of college. Ed Sheeran’s “Tenerife Sea” reminds me of holding hands while breathing in another person’s smell with their smiling face. And Young the Giant’s “Typhoon” reminds me why I love music. It puts me in the present when nothing else will.