Hello and welcome to Playlists For The People. Before I begin posting my ever-mindfully crafted playlists, I would like to give a little background story on how music influenced me personally. Hopefully this will help you all get to know me a little better, and understand why I believe music is so important in life.
I only wanted one thing for my seventeenth birthday. Having taught myself how to play the acoustic guitar, a ukulele seemed like the perfect way to satisfy my musical curiosity. My younger brother Charlie nagged my mom into buying me one, and he proudly presented it to me on my birthday, October thirteenth. When I received the chestnut brown ukulele, I knew in an instant that we would be an inseparable pair. After playing it for the first time, I had no idea a musical instrument was capable of producing such a magical sound. The size of the ukulele was perfect for my small hands, and my fingers danced easily across the frets as I picked the strings. Back then, I had no idea that my brand new little instrument would get me through the most challenging times of my life.
It was Sunday December seventeenth, two thousand eleven, only two months after my birthday. I pulled into the driveway at home, just returning from Laura’s house after a sleepover and study session. I only had two exams left before winter break. Charlie had just gotten home from being in the hospital for a few days with a back infection and some strange arm pain, and I was excited to see him again. I walked through the cold to the front door where my awaiting mother greeted me. She quickly ushered me inside and said “sit down, we need to talk.” My immediate thought was “am I in trouble? Are they mad at me? Am I grounded?” But there was no way I could have braced myself for the news I was about to receive. After a few minutes of explaining the seriousness of the situation, my mom told me with a shaky voice that Charlie was diagnosed with a rare childhood bone cancer called Ewing’s Sarcoma. A wave of shock came over me as I tried to process this information. My fifteen-year-old brother, my best friend, had cancer.
In the weeks following the diagnosis, I felt lonely and scared, not knowing what to do with myself. I came home from school many days to an empty house while my parents and Charlie were at Children’s Hospital for chemo treatments, and found myself spending more and more time with my ukulele. I would sit on my kitchen table, singing and strumming popular tunes as if in front of a live audience when in fact, my dog Wilson was my only listener. The cheerful melodies I created filled the emptiness of my quiet home, lifting me into a better state of mind. Whenever Charlie came home from the hospital, I would excitedly play him songs I mastered in his absence. Sometimes, he would even contribute some of his guitar playing and we would have little jam sessions in my room, forgetting about everything else, if just for a little while. The circumstances were grim, but whenever I played my ukulele, everything felt okay.
Charlie had been through six months of chemo when it came time for my sixth summer at Camp Manito-Wish. I would be going on an advanced twenty-four day backpacking trip in Montana’s vast and rugged Beartooth Mountains. I wanted to bring my ukulele with me, but my parents said it was unnecessary, too fragile, and they wouldn’t pay to replace it if it got broken. But I didn’t listen. I was the only one in our group of six whose sixty-five pound pack proudly boasted a musical instrument strapped to the outside. On my trip, we faced some of the biggest mental and physical challenges of our lives, and our source of comfort during these struggles was none other than my ukulele. I remember vividly on day eight, we were two days behind schedule. We had five miles of snowfields and boulder fields to traverse before sundown, at an altitude of over eleven thousand feet. We had been climbing our way through a sea of punch-buggy-sized rocks for three hours when we finally decided to take a break. After unfastening the heavy packs from our backs, we sat among the boulders in defeated silence, realizing we had so much more ground to cover and it was already noon. Just then, I turned to my pack and unstrapped my ukulele.
When the first chords had been played, I felt a shift in our group’s morale. We were dead tired and our muscles ached, but somehow we suddenly found ourselves smiling and singing “Umbrella” by Rihanna while I strummed. With a little help from the ukulele, we were able to make it through the remaining miles that day with our heads held high.
Three months have passed since then, and now I am playing my ukulele in celebration. I play to celebrate eighty-five miles of boulders crossed and mountains climbed. I play to celebrate my brother finally being cancer-free. I play to celebrate my eighteenth birthday, marking one year of having my ukulele in my life. No matter where I end up a year from today, I will remember how one little instrument kept me strong, hopeful, and smiling during my toughest battles. And I know I will be ready to tackle the world, ukulele in hand.