New Sounds in the Neighborhood

I have two new neighbors who are changing the sonic texture of my neighborhood in beautiful and significant ways. As I type this, my neighbor two doors down is wailing away on his tenor saxophone. He moved into John and Paula’s duplex and has been using their front stoop and back yard as his practice space. Fortunately, he’s really good.

I know the lyrics of every single song he plays. They are the old standards I sang as I was first becoming a solo singer at jazz clubs around the Twin Cities many years ago: “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “How High the Moon,” “In a Sentimental Mood”… They don’t make songs like that any more – so elegant, so romantic, so snazzy.

Every time I hear him playing, it brings a big smile to my face. His sound makes the neighborhood feel more….well… alive. The musician in me is inspired that someone is practicing down the block. It makes me want to practice, too. I weed my garden and sing along. I hang out my laundry and sing along. Later I find those sweet old songs running through my head.

We haven’t met face to face yet, but when we do, I will all ready know something of his soul from listening to him play for so many delightful hours.

The other vocal neighbor is also adding riffs to the saxophone sounds. It’s a chipmunk I’ve been calling “Squeak.” He lives under my back deck. When I’m out there reading, he wanders by my foot without realizing I’m there. I enjoy seeing him living his chipmunk day as I live my human day – going on his chipmunk errands and enjoying the sunflower seeds the birds scatter under the feeder.

This year Squeak has been more present and LOUD than the chipmunks in previous years. He gives rhythmic, emphatic “chups” for hours on end. This morning he was my alarm clock at 6 a.m….again. The edge of my front window box is his favorite pulpit for giving forth his endless “Chup, chup, chup, chup, chup….” sermons.  I wonder what he’s expressing? Territorial boundaries? Amorous invitations? I know he wouldn’t burn so many calories making such sounds without some urgent purpose. His entire body pulses with each “chup.” He’s working hard at it.

There are so many neighborhood sounds I’ve grown fond of in my eleven years in this place – the singing of tires on the bride over the Mississippi, the voices of the kids next door, the radio station my landlord keeps on in the garage to ward off intruders, the slap of sneakers as the high school track team runs by, and the syncopated drip of the gutter outside my living room window whenever it rains. Other sounds make me grumpy: roaring motorcycles racing down the 25-mile-per-hour parkway, leaf blowers (don’t get me started), and (very occasionally) car alarms.

Through many years of voice coaching, singing, and recording, I’ve developed keen ears. Sometimes I find it challenging to manage everything they pick up in the world around me. Overall, though, I count them as a gift. They open me up to the subtle artistry of my sax-playing neighbor and the urgent insistence behind Squeak’s “chupping” – making me more intimate with the song the world is constantly singing all around me.




About Barbara McAfee

Barbara is a voice coach, singer/songwriter, keynote speaker, and author who merges lessons from 12 years in organization development with the transformational power of sound. Her book, Full Voice: The Art & Practice of Vocal Presence (Berrett-Koehler Publishers) was a #1 Amazon bestseller in Business Communication. The book is based on her 25 years as a voice coach, supporting people from many professions in learning how to access the full power and expression of the voice in service to their work and relationships. Barbara’s musical keynotes blend practical content, sophisticated humor, and thought-provoking questions on topics including voice, leadership, and engagement. She was “the band” for Margaret Wheatley’s Women’s Leadership Revival Tour, which visited 15 North American cities. She also appears with authors Parker Palmer and Peter Block. Barbara has produced seven CD's of mostly original music and is founder of the Morning Star Singers, a volunteer hospice choir in the Twin Cities. She lives across the street from the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
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2 Responses to New Sounds in the Neighborhood

  1. Love this one… I have a similar attention for sounds, and I miss “my” chipmunk from my former place.

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