The Unexpressed Music

“Most of us go to our graves with our music still inside us.”

— Oliver Wendell Holmes

Choose one of the following prompts:

  • Tell me about the unexpressed music that is still inside you

  • Write about someone you know who died with the music still locked inside them. Tell me about who they might have been and what kept them from it.



  1. Fran Stekoll says

    Sidney Karnow, my Father, died from Lung Cancer at the age of 78. He was a modest man, looked like a cross between Colonel Sanders and Xavier Cougat. I remember changing his diaper at 3 AM and his response was
    “Oh for Lords sakes, I changed you when you were a baby; but I never thought you’d be doing the same for me.” ” It’s an honor to care for you, Dad.” then he said,” You’re the best thing that ever happened to me!”
    He was an only child of Joseph and Lena Karnow. Joseph was a custom taylor in Peekskill, N.Y, Lena was a home maker. When Joseph was a small boy his Mother put him in an orphanage. At the age of 14 he looked
    for his Father and found he’d re-married with other children. Joseph was a
    strict Father with Sidney. He criticized him relentlessly. All during his life, Sidney tried to please his Father; but to no avail. Everything he tried to achieve was negatively received. Sidney had a wonderful singing and speaking voice. At one point he tried to be a radio announcer. I remember he’d take the lamp shade off the stand-up lamp and speak clearly into the bulb, practicing for a position with the local station; but when it came to interview, he’d forget all the words. Joseph would constantly compare him to his successful cousins who were Doctors and Lawyers. Sidney could never do anything to please his Father. I loved my Father. He was a traveling salesman. Every time he’d return from a trip he’d bring me a present. He always loved me unconditionally. How he found the feelings to express this love was always a puzzle to me as he never got any from his Father, although his Mother, Lena, My Grand mother was very loving. Sidney, My Father, spent his entire life trying to “Be Somebody” He had many jobs and failed at all of them, even went bankrupt twice. He sang in the shower, never in public, except once when I was managing La Posada and he lived there as a resident, we sang a duet together. I still have a tape recording of his singing “I left my heart in San Francisco”. He sounded better than Tony Bennet on that tape. I now sing and have for my entire life. He gave me not only my life; but a voice to express myself, not only through song; but in writing and verbalizing. I’ve been a successful business owner, a wife, a mother, and grand mother and I can truthfully say I got those attributes from my Father-Sidney Karnow. He loved my children and my grand children. I’m sad he didn’t live long enough to see how they all turned out. The day I married my first husband, he took me for a walk and asked if I knew what I was doing. I was so in lust at 19, married for all the wrong reasons. He knew it, I didn’t listen. Now I’m married to Matt, the love of my life. He and Dad would’ve gotten along so well, especially playing golf. Dad would’ve been so proud of Andy playing Football for the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo was his territory with Schenley Distillers when we lived in New York. In his mind, Daddy never quite achieved all he could have. He lived precariously through my Mother who was a professional teacher and Psychologist. Always took a back seat, afraid to plunge forth and be all that he could have been. He was my hero, my rock, I loved him. Still do. Can still smell his Old Spice. He never spanked me, only stared at me with eyes bulging when I mis-behaved. Once I met him for a sales
    convention. My mother never liked getting gussied up and joining him for these outings and my husband was a work-a -holic, so Dad would call and invite me. He came from North Hollywood, I drove from San Jose. We met
    the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. He gave me a room, told me to change into my party dress, and when I met him in the lobby he said ,”take
    my arm, and don’t tell anyone you’re my daughter. When he died I found his little black book. I thought it would have names and numbers of other women; but instead it contained the punch lines of all the jokes he needed to remember to share with his clients for selling wine and spirits. I got caught smoking his pipe, driving his car without permission, finding propholactics in his dresser drawer; but never punished, only stared at with bulging eyes. I have a memory box in his honor with that pipe, and other mementos, including old spice. Every November 4th, I pause and write him a love letter and remember him fondly on his Birthday. He would’ve been 103 this year. I think I’ve achieved many things in my life to make up for what he never did in his. Thank you Daddy for giving me Life. I love You
    Frances Ann- Your loving Daughter.

  2. Jean West says

    When I saw the name “Oliver Wendell Holmes,” I suspected it was Senior, rather than the Supreme Court Justice, i.e., Junior. I became, shall we say, virtually acquainted with him? I was researching a murder mystery set at Antietam battlefield. Because Junior was wounded in the battle, Senior (dean of the Harvard Medical School) traveled to attend him and he left a detailed description of his journey, which I liberally looted for details. Curious, I looked him up in Wikipedia and there I discovered he was also the father of the stereoscope (i.e. father of 3D), an early proponent of obstetric anesthesia, sterile surgery and nursing (proposing the contagion theory, the origin of the germ theory), translator of Dante, author and poet (I know him best for saving ‘Old Ironsides.’) Now, there is a person who seemed to sing out the music within him, in every form it took—a Renaissance man. Interestingly, his birth year also produced Darwin, Lincoln, Tennyson, and Poe. Who, then, is his antithesis? I would nominate Charles Meigs. Haven’t heard of him? He opposed anesthesia on the grounds of the “doubtful nature of any process that the physicians set up to contravene the operations of those natural and physiological forces that the Divinity has ordained us to enjoy or to suffer,” and asserted that “doctors are gentlemen, and a gentleman’s hands are clean.” I cannot help but view him as a person who not only kept his music inside himself, but also consciously excised it from his person whenever it tried to whistle.

    I can’t claim to know him personally, but I think we’ve all known the type, those who wear blinders because of one reason or the other. This time of the year, Jacob Marley’s words to Ebenezer Scrooge ring out, “My spirit never walked beyond out counting-house-mark me!- in life my spirit never roved beyond the narrow limits of our money-changing hole; and weary journeys lie before me.” I don’t think that everyone has to write to access his or her inner music. For some I think it’s visual arts or dance, for others music itself, while others it’s inventing or, as Dickens suggests, for others it’s assisting others: “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business.” When Scrooge finds that music within him, the Christmas bells sound. Coincidence? I think not.

  3. Janet Ring says

    My unexpressed music are my novels. It is the fact that I don’t write every day. It is that I gave up on myself instead of taking the time to write. After 15+ years as a technical writer, I seemed to have lost the creative flow. Some of those years I was a technical editor—and I still work as a professional editor on others’ books. Now I can’t seem to write without editing myself, and that stops the flow. I knew as a child that I was a writer. I wrote poetry for years. Now I no longer do that.

    I had cancer in 1990, and right after that my sister had a book published. My sister is a serious painter. She has been an artist since she was a child. I grieved seriously when she got her book published. At that time, I felt that she had done what I was “supposed” to do and I had somehow been “punished.” I no longer believe that or carry that in my heart. Life just doles out what it does. I learned also that my sister’s commitment to expressing her creativity and doing that with discipline and passion are what got her that book deal. She expresses the music inside her; her creativity drives her.

    In my heart, I want to write my book, the one I have been dreaming of for years. I have an idea for two novels and I believe that I can get them published if I work at them. I don’t have a regular job now and could take the time. As I write this, I feel encouraged to start again and pick up where my first few pages left off. Thank you, Laura, for this writing prompt.

  4. Ilana says

    Micah is the name of an 8th century prophet. He taught that we should worship through acts of loving kindness, that this is all God truly wants from us.

    The baby’s name was Micah. He had a twin brother who grew up to be a kind, loving and generous man. With everything this twin brother made of himself; professional, friend, husband father and caregiver, he never forgot about Micah.

    Micah died of SIDS when the twins were eight weeks old. All the music, all the promise that soul had was lost. He could have grown up to be anything. He could have been a brilliant doctor; a surgeon who saved people’s lives. He could have been an architect who designed beautiful buildings for others to enjoy. He could have been an accountant, engineer, historian, author, lawyer, teacher… There is no telling what he could have been but I know what he would have been.

    He would have been a friend; the compassionate voice that tells you this pain will not last forever and that he’ll stay by your side and be with you until it is over. He would have been a gift to this world from God, just as his brother is. He would have helped those in need, people he knew and strangers alike. He would have worked to better our world in his own unique way. He would have loved. He would have been loved. He would have made this world a beautiful place for his children, for his nieces and nephews, for his friends and his family. Every life he touched would have been enriched for the experience.

    Just like his brother. Just like my son, his namesake and his brother’s child.

  5. Bobbie Anne says

    There is still unexpressed music inside me. It takes on many forms to get out. I like to sing with others in church or in karoke. I sing the songs for worship and for myself. I write poems, and write in my journal or here or other places. I would like to express music for the sheer joy of it, so that I don’t have to have the regrets of not having let the music out. Thanks for reminding me that I can sing or share or write my poetry or music every day if I want to. Ultimately, the only thing stopping me is me.

      • Ilana says

        Oh, I love that! Step out of my own way. I’ll take that advice too. Bobbie Anne, thank you for sharing your love of singing. I am Jewish but I sing in temple the same way you talk about singing in church. I was touched by your words.

  6. Debbie O says

    The music? The unexpressed music that is still inside of me? This is trickier than it first appears. When I stop to listen for the music, what I hear instead are all of the voices! They are so loud and insistent. And they are definitely not singing!

    Deep breath, and another. Try to quiet this noisy place, SHHH! Slowly I begin to leave the scolding, the passive/aggressive expressions of my past, the insecurities about the present and exaggerated fears for the future. Slowly they begin to fade into the background. I now hear, as well as feel, my breath moving in and out. Breath. So simple and yet sustains life; emotional and physical.

    About fifteen years ago, as I would drive around the rural Indiana countryside throughout my work day I would sometimes experience periods of intense peace. In those moments I could “see” a beautiful, colorful dancer with in my mind’s eye. I never saw her face but experienced her dancing as a kaleidoscope of colors as she would spin with joy. In fact, I came to call her Joy! And looked so forward to those moments when she would unexpectedly begin to twirl through my mind brightening up otherwise drab days.

    I never heard Joy’s music. I could sense her ecstasy through her movements but she danced in silence. I never heard Joy’s music. At some point, she stopped even dancing for me anymore and became a distant memory. Until, that is, you unearthed her with the quote about going to the grave with the music still inside of us.

    I can’t tell you about the unexpressed music because I never heard it. Joy was trying to show me it was there. I once heard that the opposite of love is not hate but indifference. My indifference, my fear of her exquisite freedom quieted the music even for her, I think. Today that feels like a tragic mistake.

    There are words, though. Words beyond the scolding, judgmental voices that run rampant through my conscious mind spreading their cynicism and criticism unchecked. More like whispers, really. But they are there. I bring them close to my heart to hold them safe from the internal vipers that would bury them near Joy and leave me empty and bereft. There is beauty, too. Not “seen” in the traditional sense but felt as the warm glow that is created in the presence of kindness and caring.

    Is this enough to spark the fire? Could the recipe for my unheard music be hidden within the lilting syllables of alliteration delivered with compassion and truth? By sharing the secrets and bringing the shame out into the sunshine, will I create a place for Joy to dance again?

    Perhaps I will never hear her music but, if she will come again to me, I will at least be able to make amends for my callousness towards her in the past. I think she will understand and forgive me – for one could not dance with such spirit and freedom if she was weighed down with pettiness and regret.

    Another quote that comes to mind just now is this; “Go through the motions and soon you will feel the corresponding emotions.” So if I begin to dance like I hear Joy’s song, perhaps I will. I like this idea. It feels like hope. So watch out for my clumsy movements as I begin to shuffle to a melody that I don’t yet hear but believe will come.

    • Melissa says

      I love this! It’s so honest and beautifully written. I really hope you see Joy again; that sounds like such an amazing experience to kind of see her in your mind’s eye. I don’t know if you’d be into it, but I feel like I have sort of similar ‘visions’ (not really visions in the mystical sense, but just really vivid thoughts I guess?) when I do yoga. Like I said, I don’t know if that’s your thing, but it might help you get to that peaceful state you described when you used to see her. Hope you figure it all out. :]

      • Debbie O says

        Melissa – thank you for the suggestion of yoga. I do find exercise, especially when outside in nature, creates a sense of peace and purpose. Keep the vivid alive! And I will try to do the same.

  7. Melissa says

    *This is kind of abstract, and completely unorganized. I like doing these prompts with stream of consciousness, so bear with me.*

    The music inside me is strong. It’s captivating and epic, like symphonic metal. It’s dark and dramatic, unlike what anyone would think of me. Me, the girl who is bright and colorful and silly and likes things like Harry Potter and Avatar: The Last Airbender even though she’s almost 20, the nerd, but not so strange as to expect the symphony playing in my mind.

    It is the energy and the climax of the symphony that I struggle to capture. I see the scenes that play out with the music: dramatic, panning in and out, stark contrast, beautiful. But how do I communicate that in to words? I don’t want a soap opera. I don’t want it to be overly dramatic, but at the same time, it is overly dramatic. And that’s the point! I want drama, I want fear and adrenaline. I want that crescendo and even those decrescendos where the music becomes so quiet it’s just a whisper and then suddenly, as if the music was a diver climbing the ladder and leaping silently through the air, the diver hits the water and the water erupts around her, the music clashing and harmonizing at the same time.

    It’s so captivating; I can feel the music, the energy inside me. But, how do I express it? How can I make you see that symphony? I need you to! I need to share this phenomenon with you; how can I keep something so beautiful and yet dangerous to myself?

    I’m stuck in my outer shell of the bright girl so that no drama can be achieved. I want to paint swirling and twisting lines on my face, I want to smear colors across my eyes, reds, gold, so what if they blend into red hair? I want the drama. I want to wear a flowing dress that spirals around me as I twist and dance to the dark symphony.

    Perhaps it can be described in Florence and the Machine’s music video, The Drumming Song. It’s perfect; it’s passion and drama. But how does she set that free?

    It’s not being ‘emo’; it’s being free with emotion and feeling. I’m not depressed just because the song inside me is dark. It’s a dark war that is at the same time uplifting because it is the unleashing of feeling and emotion that everyone fights so hard to keep inside.

    We don’t want others to know we have passions; that’s weakness. We should be nonchalant; we should pretend those poppy love songs about people who don’t actually exist to the singers are what drive us in life.

    No, I want my life to be epic. And, if that means at the end of the tale I die, well then I’ve just followed the rules of life.

    It’s the music of flyers and warriors, and while I have never been either, it’s inside me somewhere. I just cannot find the means to express it, to embrace it.

    And my symphony slows and quiets, leaving me only half satiated…

  8. Andrea Jones says

    As we get older our eyesight dims, our memory fails, and our steps slow. Many of us also lose our hearing. While glasses and laser surgery fix our eyes, post it notes remind us of ever important events, and exercise hurries our steps along, there isn’t a hearing aid out there than can truly repair our hearing. Because what has gone quiet isn’t the voice of our neighbors and the ringing of the phone, but the sound of our inner music. The notes that make us dance, sing, write and play. The notes that were thunderously loud while we were children.

    I believe that as we get even older, the music likely returns when we reach a point of disregard for what others’ think of us. I’ve decided I’m not willing to wait that long. I want my music back and I want it back now. I remember the music, how it felt, how it sounded. It was pure, undiluted Joy. I want it back.

    I was fifteen. I was alone on my horse, riding bareback, three miles from home out in the woods. I wasn’t paying attention to the weather. The day had started out beautifully and I assumed it would remain so. As my Arab gelding Taj and I were moseying home, a huge clap of thunder brought us to our senses and jolted us to attention; so much so that I almost ended up on the ground instead of the horse.

    I glanced over my shoulder in time to see a menacing thunder cloud shoot another bolt of lightning towards the earth. The warm wind had started to blow heavily and I knew the lightening was going to overtake us. We needed to get home. Taj started to run. He was a fast horse with amazing endurance gifted from his Arabian ancestors. As he picked up speed, the wind started pushing tears from my eyes. I was bent over his neck with my hands in his mane. He was in control. I was just along for the ride. He had never run that fast for me before. My common sense warned that one misstep could kill us both, but then again so could a bolt of lightning.

    The wind swirled around us as we ran. My long hair was in knots. He flowed around trees and bushes, his legs stretching out underneath us. We were getting closer to home and the cloud was getting closer to us. As I started to turn around to assess the thunder cloud I noticed another, fluffier cloud above Taj and I. It was shaped as a perfect eagle. The eagle flew above us as we flew above the ground. As I spotted the end of the driveway the eagle dissipated and Taj and I slowed down to a trot. We entered the barn, as the first rain drop hit us. We had raced a thunderstorm and had won. The laughter bubbled out of me and I wrapped myself around his warm neck as the joy at what we had done leapt through my heart.

    There have been other moments such as this, moments of “damn the consequences”, moments of being wholly in the present, moments of fearlessness, but there haven’t been enough. I want more of them and I want them now.

  9. Rebecca Hudson says

    The unexpressed music still inside me can say different things from my perspective. The music most people listen to doesn’t set postive things in their lives. It’s the reason why they’re so bad behaved. There are some songs I can relate to based on my emotions and what I go through in life or during a time of a situation. I can never express myself by singing, I’m not a good singer and I’ve been told I’m not. Instead of singing songs, I play them.
    The music people listen to nowadays are negative from my point of view. Most songs are about drugs, alcohol, women, sex, and fighting. The artist that person listens to looks up to the aritist like a role model, so that person is going to listen to the music and think it’s okay to do whatever is based on the music. Myself, on the other hand, I listen to music that makes me stronger, sets positive thinging, and gives me a better attitude. I listen to music about life and love, not only that, I listen to christian music. I’ve had a few of my friends make fun of me one day because I listen to christain music, of course they didn’t believe in God, but it didn’t give them the right to laugh at me, they should have respected my music.
    The music I relate to helps me in life because I know there’s someone out there who knows exactly how I feel and probably goes through the same thing I go through. If there’s a song about a situation I’m going through then I can listen to it all day to make myself realize if it’s worth solving or not. I can listen to music that makes me stronger or music that makes me sad because it’s about someone who went to a better place, someone who broke my heart, or maybe about a problem I’m going through.
    I thought I was a pretty good singer up until the eigth grade. My friends and I was playing American Idol, little did I know, my friends was making fun of my singing. One of the stuck up girls overheard me sing and made me sing in front of the class, everyone laughed and I was embarrassed. It went on and on for about a week, they made me sing during lunch in front of everyone and also during a basketball game. At some times, I still try to sing today, but my little sister makes fun of me and teases me about it. It makes me insecure about it. I soon found my inspiration to music, I signed myself up to a piano class at school. I enjoy playing the piano, it calms me down and it sounds so relaxing.
    These are the different things that is from my perfective about the unexpressed music still inside me. It’s hard to find music that is positive, I hope people find the music that will make them better and to go far in life. I know that I’m not the only one who can relate to songs. Everyone goes through a hard time, so they relate to the music they listen to in order to see a different way of life and or try to make themselves better. I don’t care what people say about my singing, I sing to get better at it. One day, maybe I’ll write my own song and sing it while playing the piano.

    • says

      Dear Rebecca, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and feelings with us today. I really enjoyed reading your piece. I just joined a choir a year ago and am taking singing lessons. I know how scary it can be–and how exhilarating to let that music out.

    • Jared Rauch says

      I agree with a lot that you’ve said, especially listening to songs that relate to how I’m feeling at certain times. If I’m hurt over a break-up I listen to a band called Closed Heart Surgery or my good friend, Richy Nix’s music because they have a lot of songs that deal with heartbreak. But I strongly disagree with how you said a lot of people are influenced by what they listen to. I’m a big fan of the rap duo, Insane Clown Posse, and a lot of their songs talk about killing people with hatchets, having a ton of sex, amongst over things. I don’t kill people, I don’t have sex unless I’m with a girl, and I don’t go around hurting people for the fun of it. I just listen to them because I like their sound and their lyrics entertain me. I will admit, though, that there are Juggalos (fans of ICP) that take their music to the extreme and go out and harm people. I think that if someone is stupid enough or that easily influenced should be put away for a whiile. ICP, themselves, even said that they don’t make the music for people to take seriously. I’m getting way off track here, but I can agree with you to a strong degree and I like how you used examples from your own life. On another note, don’t give up singing. If you love it, never stop because people make fun of you. If I stopped writing because people said my stuff sucked, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Just my thoughts!

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