Up until college, I had always felt my apathy toward music follow an upward trajectory. In elementary school, I quit playing the piano. It didn’t matter how long my fingers were or how many lessons I went to, I was never going to have a knack for playing that piano keyboard in our living room.
In high school, my first boyfriend was a saxophone player. I’m probably not going to date a saxophone player again. And my next boyfriend played the banjo. I’m probably not going to date a banjo player again. Honestly, I don’t think I can listen to bluegrass or jazz without a sour taste in my mouth.
My dear high school friend Omar, an incredible musician studying at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, would always try and get me to listen to new music. He’d fill up flashdrives with songs for me, forward me links to his original tracks and send me screenshots of the music he would listen to during our art history class. I think I listened to about 5 percent of all of that. (Omar if you’re reading this, I love you, and I apologize).
By the time I graduated from art school, I had collected so many reasons to not enjoy music, that my commute to school was scored by a numbing soup of top 40s that spoke less to me than the chatter of traffic on the Interstate 405.
For someone who loved art so much, I was unusually averse to music. It’s not that it ever really bothered me — it was more that I was so apathetic toward an entire form of art that it mostly passed through me without a second thought.
But when I moved into my freshman dorm, I met my roommate, Maddy. She was well-versed in the latest memes, had also grown up in Orange County and had a taste for bougie cafes. We became fast friends.
She told me about how she was raised on oldies and classic rock. She had a playlist for every mood and knew more trap lyrics than she was ever willing to admit. As the semester progressed, we’d find ourselves more often than not listening to the Talking Heads, ranting about how Burger Records’ shitty alternative music had invaded our early high school years.
In my first month on campus, Maddy and her friend Elle brought me to SUPERB’s Kehlani concert on campus. I was reluctant to go; I was cold, it was Friday night, I didn’t listen to her music and all I wanted was to sip boba on the couch. But being the good friends they were, they waited for me at Sharetea, and brought me and my stubbornness along with them to the concert.
When the Kehlani set wrapped up, I met Jessica. She was the girl I had been talking to a couple months ago to be freshman roommates, but it had fallen through. She had also dragged her reluctant roommates to see Kehlani and found us in the hodgepodge crowd of Bay Area kids who’d come out to the show. We started to hang out and eventually, the four of us — Elle, Maddy, Jessica and I — fell into a routine of spending our Fridays together.
It was weekends of Elle leading us into Bowles Hall to hear Tame Impala playing from the Greek Theatre. It was late nights of watching conspiracy videos about The Beatles on YouTube, followed by listening to A Tribe Called Quest’s new album. It was gathering on the dormroom floor of Jessica’s boyfriend, listening to “Redbone” for the first time and watching Kevin Abstract’s music video for “American Boyfriend.”
And then, the other weekend, I found myself at the top story of SFMOMA. My feet were sore from having traversed the previous six stories of art and an Edvard Munch walking tour, but my friend had pushed the button on the elevator and held my hand, so I mustered up a second wind.
The door opened to an exhibit called Soundtracks. It was an audio-visual exhibit that explored the role of sound in contemporary art. What struck me most was this huge circular ring of water, spun by a magnet, that held dozens of white porcelain pots floating on its surface. We sat at the edge of the pool for what had to have been half an hour.
The porcelain clinked together softly, a meditative tintinnabulation during which I realized that I still won’t ever fully understand music. The fine workings of a sonata or the sadness in a minor chord will always be a mystery to me.
But I did realize that my freshman year of college has marked a start of a significant period in my life — one in which I’ve begun to hear the music that plays behind my dearest memories.