Huffpost Arts
Frank Fitzpatrick Headshot

Maya's Words -- Music to My Ears

Posted: Updated:

"Music was my refuge.
I could crawl into the space between the notes
and curl my back to loneliness
."
- Maya Angelou

With her transition still fresh, my heart is filled with the resonating voice of the great late Maya Angelou. Countless admirers and friends around the world will pay tribute to her in these coming days. No matter how much or how well we write, however, our words will likely pale in the shadow of the inspired passages she scribed, recited and sang to us -- passages that will be studied, repeated, and re-interpreted for generations to come. When I read her work, the page sings to me; when I hear her voice, her words echo like music to my soul. When Dr. Angelou gave voice to the written word, it was like a master musician giving sound and persona to the notes on a printed score. You will be missed, Ms. Angelou; but, like a classic song, you will never be forgotten.

"People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did,
but people will never forget how you made them feel
."

Maya Angelou was a true inspiration to me -- for her creativity, for her courage, and for her grace. When I think of the term "renaissance woman" Maya Angelou is my definition. In reflection of her life, I decided to read more about her. I loved and admired her as a great poet, a fearless woman, a filmmaker, a creative visionary and a leading voice for the civil rights movement who rose up out of the ashes of a stormy and often brutal childhood to become one of the most influential literary figures of the past century.

But there were many things I didn't know: she went mute for a period of several years as child, during which she started writing poetry, at age nine. She would make a valiant effort to learn the language of every country she visited. She was the first female streetcar conductor in San Francisco. Her unforgettable reading of her poem, "On the Pulse of the Morning," at Bill Clinton's inauguration made her the first poet to present at a presidential inauguration since Robert Frost himself read for John F. Kennedy's over 30 years earlier. If someone were to ask me what contributions Maya Angelou had made to American culture and history, I would have to take pause and ask myself if there was any aspect of American culture on which she hadn't left her mark.

When it came to music, she not only spoke with a musical tongue, but she also composed, danced and sang. She was in love with what she called, "the music in language." Sound and rhythm were inherent in her phrases, and in the very nature of the life from which they sprang. To Maya Angelou, even the river sang. Music, like the timeless words of the great literary artists that inspired her, was the cool water that quenched her thirsting soul.

Just as she loved "the music in language" Maya Angelou loved the language of music. In her 2007 interview from Live at Lincoln Center, she speaks eloquently about her collaboration with Wynton Marsalis and of the elevated experience that can emerge from the union of music and words.