From the Left



How My Sister Inspired Me to Get Back to Music

Bonnie Jean Feldkamp on

I had contemplated giving them away. So, when I started unpacking at our new place and hadn't seen them yet, I worried that I really had and just forgot.

Marie Kondo writes of only keeping things that spark joy, but what about those things that cause dread when you imagine that they are gone? I'm talking about my music books. These are the books of sheet music that I've lugged around for years and have moved from house to house, though it's been awhile since I've played my guitar.

It was 2010 when I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis and my hands were definitely affected but not as much as my feet or my energy. I like to stand when I play. At the time of my diagnosis, restaurants and country clubs would hire me to play and sing for their patio guests and I would play for hours at a time.

When the diagnosis came, I couldn't face the heartbreak of the decline or the possibility that one day I might not be able to play at all. I put my guitar aside, abandoned daily practice and declared it done. Sure, I've picked up my guitar every once in a while over the years to play an occasional tune, but nothing consistent.

A couple months ago, my sister came to visit. She's been learning to play the drums. She told me her dream was to learn a song we could play together. As soon as she said it, the dream became mine, too. We picked the Brandi Carlile song "Turpentine." The song is simple to play and supposedly written about Carlile and her brother. Perfect.

I printed the lyrics and chords and picked up my guitar. It's amazing what someone close to you can inspire. The muscle memory was there for me to bounce between chords, I just needed to commit the song to memory and toughen the skin on the tips of my fingers with practice.

Something else started to happen while I played. I unclenched.

Oh, how I love this practice, this outlet. Even if it was to only block chords and sing. How could I have abandoned it? With my guitar there is no technology. No emails or text messages pinging. No doomscrolling through social media. Just me, playing a song I like, on my guitar.


Then, my son wanted to join in. He is 7 years old and drawn to everything musical. During the past year, he's asked for piano lessons, and he wants to strum my guitar. He'll grab my tambourine, harmonica and bongo drums. Anything he can get his hands on.

This is what sent me in search of my music books. I found a collection of Disney songs stuck in our library of kids' books. I flipped through the pages and landed on "Zip-A- Dee-Doo-Dah." My son grabbed the tambourine, and we sang it again and again. I love how much music brings people together.

But where were the rest of my books? I couldn't possibly have given my books away, could I? Not the KT Tunstall songbook. It's signed! Not my Jason Mraz, Dido and James Taylor books. I drove with my husband to our storage unit. I told him we needed to get our bucket marked "winter clothes." Really what I needed were my music books.

We tried to figure which box they'd be in. My husband helped me look and I was close to giving up but checked a plastic tub filled with other memories. There they were. On the drive back home, I flipped through each one and recounted stories they conjured. Stories my husband has heard time and again. It's a reunion that has fueled my soul. These books do spark joy.

I may not be able to play a four-hour gig anymore. But I can play music with my sister and my son and on the front stoop in beautiful fall weather. I don't think there's anything better than that.


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