88+ Ways Music Can Change Your Life, published by Keep Music Alive, is a compilation of over 150 inspirational stories & quotes from musicians, music educators and music lovers from all over the world. Included are a number of stories from Grammy winning and Platinum selling artists & composers. The authors have given Music In A Word permission to post contributions to the book and we are thrilled to present one below.
This is a true story of twists and turns and how music returned to be a major joy in my life. When I was in fourth grade, there was a “talent” contest in our classroom every week. And, every week, I’d walk to the front of the room and sing a song that I had learned. It got to the point that the other kids in the class got sick of seeing me up there each week. But, I didn’t care. Every week I’d be up there with another song.
In the summer between fourth and fifth grade, my father died, by suicide. After that, I became withdrawn and not very assertive. I also began to develop a lisp that I’m sure was emotionally based. I completely lost interest in music, as well as, a lot of other things. The school put me in the school chorus, which I tried to quit soon after, but the staff wouldn’t let me.
Several years later, I was attending a summer church youth leadership week at King’s College. I was walking down the dorm hall, and one of the college counselors put his arm around me and said, “Oh, I see you’re going to the choir practice”. I wasn’t, but not being very assertive, I went along anyway. Well, as it turned out, I loved it. And that was the beginning of my returning to music. I then joined the church choir, which I participated in until near the end of college.
At the end of my senior year at college, I had to take a couple of courses in the summer before I could graduate. I stayed in a dorm during that time and there was another guy I knew there and he played guitar and sang. While in his room, I asked if I could “play” his guitar. I plucked the high “‘E” string, going up the fret board with one finger and said to myself, “Oh, so this is how it works”. After college, I got married and we lived in an apartment in West Philadelphia. My sister-in-law later moved into the same building and she had a classical guitar that she didn’t play. I asked if I could borrow it to learn a few chords and accompany myself, just for my own enjoyment.
The first real songbook I bought was a book of Phil Ochs songs. He became a real influence in my music. In the introduction to the book he said, “I hope this book will inspire some readers to try their hand at songwriting. You’ll never know how good you might be without a few honest attempts.” I think many potentially good songwriters have been still-born by their own inhibitions. I kept his words in my mind and, 6 years later, wrote my first song. I’ve since stopped counting, but I’ve probably written over 300 songs since.
It was a few years later, but I finally got up the nerve to go to an open mic and sing. It was a great experience and I’ve never looked back. That open mic occurred about 35 years ago. Since that time, music has taken me on many journeys. I’ve hosted both a radio and cable TV show showcasing songwriters, managed 3 performing songwriters, produced two concert series, booked several venues, hosted more open mics than I wish to remember and have produced and hosted an internet radio program and two internet TV programs. I have also personally performed at a number of venues, including the Philadelphia Folk Festival in 1997, which was absolutely a musical highlight in my life. I know, without a doubt, music will always be a part of my life as long as I’m living.
One of many rewarding experiences I’ve had with music was when I was employed as a social worker in a psychiatric hospital. I worked on an all-women’s facility, which had two units; one of which treated women with severe psychotic symptoms. Every once in a while I would take my guitar into work and sing songs for the patients. Most of the songs were songs people would know such as “Home on The Range”, or “Swinging on A Star”. One day, I played for patients on the unit with the women experiencing psychotic symptoms. As I was playing, one particular woman had her head down, with little expression on her face, and basically not paying attention. She most likely attended the group so she would not miss out on her next smoke break (attendance was required to be eligible for things like a smoke break). At one point, I announced to the group that I was going to sing an original song called “Willie The Bipolar Polar Bear”. The song is a funny song, but with a message. As I sang the song, the woman with her head down slowly began to raise it up, then smiled and then began to laugh. This may have been the only time she smiled and laughed during her entire hospital stay. As a songwriter and performer, touching someone on an emotional level like this is what moves us to continue to create and perform.
Finding a way back to music after the tragedy of losing my father at the age of 9, has made all the difference in my life, and as a result, has helped others along the way. It’s often funny how things happen. If that counselor at the summer retreat had not put his arm around me and dragged me to that choir practice, my life may have turned out quite differently. I may have never had all the amazing and wonderful musical experiences I have enjoyed throughout my life, and still continue to enjoy today.
Ray Naylor is a retired social worker from Pennsylvania for whom music has become a second career. He is a songwriter and performer and has had many roles in the Philadelphia Folk and Acoustic Music Scene. He has managed performing songwriters, booked venues, produced two concert series, hosted an over the air radio folk program, well as an internet ratio program and two internet TV shows.
50% of the proceeds from all book and ebook sales of “88+ Ways…” will be donated to foundations providing music instruments and lessons to schools and communities in need.