Thoughts on “Songbird”

“Songbird” was written in part about an old friend from UGA as well as something that I used to do in the drama building. Back then the theatre people and the music people shared the same building. It was an old lady with beautiful granite/marble stairwells that echoed perfectly. I was extremely shy back then, but those stairwells called to me as nothing else did. Whenever I would have a lull between classes and knew that no one should be going up to the third floor, I would sing songs that filled my heart. As soon as I heard someone open one of the doors, I would scatter through the closest of the four doors to either the outside, basement, lobby, or third floor and make myself scarce. I tried assiduously to not get caught. In the five years I was there, I was only caught singing once by someone who had a feeling it was me. He literally timed me out of one of my classes just to verify that it was indeed me singing in the stairwell. It was then that I found out that he and several others had been listening to me sing for quite sometime. I was thoroughly embarrassed at being caught, but extremely thrilled that someone was listening considering that I was truly only singing because those stairwells begged for it.

The old friend that actually brought the story to mind was one who would play jazz and ragtime on the practice pianos. In my story, James is him in my mind, all grown up. My friend would play at all times of day and night changing pianos each time. He couldn’t help playing any more than I could stop singing. It was who we were at that time. He wore a brown trench coat, a long grey-tan scarf, and I believe a fedora, but it could have been another style of hat. He was always dressed as nicely as he could be. Despite the obvious quality of his clothes, they were threadbare and patched. He carried himself with a natural pride of knowing who he was, even when he was diligently watching for any night watchmen. It was several month before I ventured into the practice room where he was playing “Tea for Two” and introduced myself. Actually, I should say that he introduced himself, as I was too shy to say much of anything. I believe he knew I had been sitting close by listening for quite a while as he nodded at me like an old friend.

We sat saying nothing as he went through all sorts of ragtime, jazz, and blues. After a while, I sang softly to something he was playing, he grinned and from then on played things that I might know. It wasn’t until a good while later that I found out that my extremely talented friend had been living where ever he could for the last few years. He had put his degree on hold due to a family misfortune and was all alone in the world. As I was living in an all girl’s dorm, I had nothing to offer him other than a warm meal and friendship. He took the friendship, declining food, saying that I was a student, too and couldn’t afford it.

So, “Songbird” was made for that time, that place. It is a mix of what could have happened, could have been.


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