For some, sound of music can’t be solitary sensation

I need to hear the sound of music, and, no, not the capital letters sound of music.

That would have been the 1965 Julie Andrews musical that played for 10 years in Des Moines theaters. And I know this, not because I made annual “The Sound of Music” pilgrimages to Des Moines, but because Des Moines Register columnist Donald Kaul waged a one-man battle to ban the movie from theaters.

Make more screens available for more “American Graffiti,” “The Godfather Part II” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” It’s hard to imagine a movie ever playing for 10 years in theaters, and I sometimes doubt my own memory, but I was a big fan of Donald Kaul and he waged a lonely battle.

I was 14, and Donald Kaul was the master. I remember.

Now, movies play for, what, a year in theaters? Six months? Six weeks? Straight to DVD? We rented “Argo,” winner of Best Picture in the Academy Awards, a few weeks after the Oscars. And “The Sound of Music” played for 10 years in theaters? Maybe it was just Des Moines, an entertainment desert.

But I do need to hear the sound of music.

And the way to listen to it apparently is with earbuds, a lovely word, and I admire the person who came up with it. I expect to see earbuds pop up in the lawn, beautiful, delicate first-of-spring flowers. I expect earbuds to be best of friends to my ears. I expect earbuds to fit finely, delivering music only to me. I expect earbuds to tune the world out, with me and the sound of music playing in my head.

I expect a lot.

I have an MP3 player somewhere, and the only way you can listen to music is with earbuds, but it has been a constant source of irritation. It’s so small, and I can’t figure out how to make it play the songs I want to hear, and I can’t make it transfer songs from CDs, and I’m not about to pay 99 cents for new music for a product I can’t use.

I do need to hear the sound of music. But it needs to fill the air, not my head.

I might be in a minority. No matter where you go, you see lots of people with slender cords dropping from their ears, plugged into an MP3 player, or an iPod, or a smartphone, or a tablet. It certainly isn’t a CD player. Or a cassette player. But, if anything, the earbuds are a sign: Do not disturb.

I like to drive, and I like to drive long distances, and I would think that music streaming into my head through earbuds would be perfect, watching the miles pass with just me and my music. But that would be dangerous, and it would be disrespectful to the person sitting next me trying to hold a conversation or point out a roadside wonder. So I listen to the radio or the CD player so I might possibly hear the traffic around me, so I am mindful of my driving and not “Bohemian Rhapsody” blaring in my head.

I need to be aware of my surroundings, and I can’t be aware of them if earbuds are plugged in.

These days, I spend a considerable amount of time on trains and buses, or waiting alone for trains and buses, and those would seem like prime time for earbuds, and music, and tuning out the world. But I can’t, even if I knew how to listen to my MP3 player, wherever it is.

I need to be aware of my surroundings, even if it is on the seat of the bus zipping down Lake Shore Drive or Metra plodding its way along the Northwest Line. Plenty of people in the “quiet car” on Metra wear earbuds as they make their commutes, but that seems to defeat the purpose of surround-sound quiet.

What’s nice about the quiet car is the quiet. It’s kind of like a library on rails. You might hear some hushed talking, but that’s about it. The quiet car is peaceful, and even the mellowest of ambient music through earbuds would be jarring.

And what do you do when danger is lurking, not that I have ever experienced danger in 30 years of using public transportation? But with earbuds plugged into my head, someone might have the drop on me, and I suppose rob me, as improbable as that might be.

I need to hear the sound of music, but it needs to fill the air – the hills are alive with the sound of music – not my head.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate, freelance writer and former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He may be contacted at dickpeterson76@gmail.com.

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