Competing Melodies


By Trudy Wischemann 

Sunday afternoon, cool enough to sit by an open window while I write, my brain is getting tangled in the melodies of the ice cream trucks touring the neighborhood. One has a remarkable repertoire, switching songs in different keys without taking a breath, much less a ritard. The other’s play list is more limited, the chord changes simpler, the melodies easier to follow without disrupting my other thought patterns. But today the trucks’ paths crossed in an intersection a block away, and the result was cacophony.

“How like life,” I thought. My life, the one with an agenda running through it as well as a melody at all times. How like the many meetings I’ve attended recently, where two people speaking at the same time erased each other’s message without getting their own across. How like the stream of rhetorical garbage coming out of Washington, where defeating the other’s message is enough, a small triumph that leaves the winner weakened while the loser comes back for round two, or twenty, or twenty thousand.

But thinking of these competing strains as melodies actually helps. A melody is a single line of notes moving in one direction, and one direction only. A melody can imply a chord structure (a harmonic pattern) and determine a rhythm, adding second and third dimensions to the melody’s depth and length, adding to its definition as music. Lyrics add another dimension, and I’m sure you can think of other qualities that define something as music. But a melody can stand alone. It is primary speech, and most of us can relate to melodies because we are all vocalists until and unless our vocal chords are damaged or removed. It’s how we’re made.

A melody is a form of speech that comes from a different part of the brain than where sentences come from. You might think of it as coming from the heart, but something I’ve learned from working with brain-damaged people is that music still resides within many of them even when verbal speech has been cut off. My friend who suffered damage to her verbal center, thought to be on the left lobe, re-taught it to spell by singing the “ABC Song” from kindergarten, which her right lobe remembered accurately.

How good are we at talking, anyway? Sometimes I feel like giving up talking, it seems so hard to get my points across. But these scraps of thought that look like sentences, these shards of words strung together in blotchy paragraphs spoken aloud – they all come from basic melody playing through our bodies, pulsing through our lives, wanting to be fully heard. Sometimes the shards get in the way. Sometimes they give us clues to what is playing below our ability to hear it. Sometimes they keep opponents at bay, defending the sweet and simple melody we can’t bear to have someone else shut down, even if its meaning escapes us at the moment.

I think sometimes we ought to just sing to each other. We might get somewhere that way. We might see that our melodies are complementary, not competing. We might see that we just need to let the other melody-singer pass through the intersection before entering ourselves. We might even find that we’re singing the same song.

Trudy Wischemann is a rural advocate who writes and sings. You can send her your notes c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit and leave a comment there.

This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Foothills Sun-Gazette newspaper.

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