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Finding Belonging Through Familiar Music

Editor’s Note: Music can help us overcome feelings of loneliness and find purpose in belonging. This short essay was submitted by a current BYU student who found the courage to reach out and seek belonging after hearing a familiar musical selection at a School of Music concert.

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Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU

The De Jong Concert Hall was crowded, and conversations hummed throughout the space. Since I was in the last seat of the row, I had to twist in my seat and lean forward to join in the conversation. My roommate’s friends talked about people I didn’t know, so I watched their faces to gauge how to react to the stories they told. Uneven lighting from the stage painted them with shadows, making it even harder to remember which friend was which.

I reminded myself that there were only a few minutes left until the concert started. Even with my discomfort, I could last until then. Besides, I was there to support my roommate.

The Women’s Chorus began their first number, and the music mixed with the cold air circulating through the auditorium. Someone coughed behind me, and I shifted in my plush seat, the textured fabric rubbing against my jeans. I tried to focus on the music, but worries pecked at my mind. I’d just gotten back to BYU from my mission, but already the assignments, projects, and (especially) the socializing were starting to overwhelm me. At least I could feel hidden here, at the concert, with the lights off and everyone facing the performers. At least I could immerse myself in the music and drain the stress from my mind for another hour.

My ears perked up as the choir began to sing “The Seal Lullaby,” by Eric Whitacre. The piece transported me back five years to when I had played the same piece in high school, back when the flute felt like the most important part of my life. I remembered sitting in my plastic chair in the band room, flute raised, fully concentrating on each note. I’d had similar concerns back then—a former re-start. My family had moved, so I attended a new high school and was expected to make new friends. That always seemed harder for me than for everyone else.

Even as I sat listening to the choir sing, I was still struggling with the same things. I’d hoped that by coming to my new roommate’s choir concert, I could slip into her friend group and stop worrying about fitting in. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to be working so far.

The music’s crescendo into the next line reminded me why my teacher had chosen the piece—originally written for choir—for the band. The piece had looked easy at first: slow tempo, simple rhythms, no sixteenth-note runs. I didn’t have to practice it much on my own. But when my classmates and I rehearsed the piece together, my teacher would stop us on every note and have us listen to our tone. As a flute section, we had to stagger our breaths so as not to disturb a single crystalline note. Finally, when we played it all the way through, a feeling of warmth pervaded the room. We could feel the creation and effort in every note.

That same warmth filled the auditorium as the choir sang the next phrase of the lullaby: “The storm shall not wake thee, nor shark overtake thee.” Their voices overlapped and rose in intensity, then fell with a decrescendo, like waves rocking the titular seal to sleep.

Infused with a new sense of calm, I looked out at the rows of people in front of me. Sure, there were a lot of them. Sure, this was a new place. But I could find a place to belong.  I’ve done this before, I thought. Slow tempos, simple rhythms, no sixteenth-note runs. I can do it again.

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“Infused with a new sense of calm, I looked out at the rows of people in front of me. Sure, there were a lot of them. Sure, this was a new place. But I could find a place to belong.”
–Linsey Bowie
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As we clapped at the end of the song, I turned to one of my roommate’s friends beside me. “It’s Natalia, right?” I said over the applause. “Wasn’t that one good?”

She nodded and smiled. “Yeah, probably my favorite so far.”

“Me too, but I’m a little biased. I played it in high school.”

“Oh, cool, you play an instrument?”

We talked a little bit more about instruments and music until the applause ended and the next song began. In my plush seat at the end of the row, I felt myself relax. It would take time, I knew, but my small efforts now would result in progress over time. It’d been the same back in the high school band room. “The Seal Lullaby” reminded me that I could establish relationships again. It would take some effort, initiated conversations, genuine smiles, and a few awkward moments, but, over time, I could belong.

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