I open my eyes to blinding powder, white light. A blurry view after what feels like an eternity of darkness. I blink hard to melt the snowflakes stuck in my weary eyes, and adjust my vision. Fingers frozen, throat dry, lungs heavy, and a hopeless effort to stay afloat and keep my heart pumping.
I look down and find myself sitting on my grandfather’s polished demi-grand piano. The one he promises every Christmas to pass down to me as a family heirloom. I gently stroke its little cracks and imperfections that tell stories of endless lifetimes we’ve spent together practicing. I lift my bewildered stare from my hands to notice the white pine forest surrounding my maple-wood friend and me. It all seems strangely familiar. Not quite like déjà vu, but I know I’ve been here before—in this frozen corner of my subconscious.
Without warning, my hands start to play. My fingers move out of my control. They echo that colorful tune, and it colors the white. A bright melodic rainbow seeps from the soundboard and violently bursts the lid open. I am not startled, but in awe as I am slowly enwrapped in floating vibrant auroras that lift and spiral up to the white sky. Fired with excitement, I gradually start playing faster and faster, and the nuances grow from mezzo forte to forte to fortissimo. I feel my hands getting sore, but there’s nothing I can do to stop playing. It becomes a race against the dark frostbite I now see oozing through my veins. The auroras effervesce and turn dark. My foot violently presses down the pedal, and I beg it to stop. Like a child ignoring his mother, it becomes more eager to stomp, and I notice the ice floor start to pop. I try to stand up, but feel heavier than a 200-pound anvil glued to the seat. I curse having had that last piece of pumpkin pie at grandpa’s house on Thanksgiving.
Piano and me slowly sink with the melting snow quicksand, and I pray that at least the piano wood floats. My heart races, but for the life of me, I still can’t stop playing. Finally, I give in and rest my forehead on the piano’s smooth top to await my death. Frozen glacier water rushes from the cracks and overpowers the piano legs, my feet, my waist, and soon rises to my shoulders. I’m surprised to feel my hands fight to keep playing as water dances between my fingers. I hold my breath and prepare for the worst. Right when I’m about to be swirled into the liquid blue ice, a desperate gasp of air pulls me upright with eyes and mouth wide open, and I’m instantly transported from the dream cosmos to the foot of my dry bed.
“That song again?” my brother asks opening the door to my room.
“Yep,” I answer as I slowly regain my composure, and shake my head as though I still have water in my ears. I let out a sigh of dismay.
And so it was, for months and months. I was thirteen, and I had been having the same dream almost every night. As soon as I was falling asleep, and the right side of my brain, the creative side, became more aware, I started hearing this enigmatic tune. When I’d wake up, I could never remember the song that had lured me to my death. Not even a thread of the melody, a syllable of the lyrics, or a single tension in the chords. Up until that moment in my life, all I had written were fragments: little melodies, song seeds, and lyric phrases. But I never seemed to link all the pieces of the puzzle. Now, my sneaky little subconscious had finished the puzzle for me. The problem was, it was trapped in there. What use is a song if it can’t even be shared with oneself? A blessing and a curse.
So I made a plan, and I took it upon myself to solve the mystery of the soundless song. In this dream lay my first complete song, and I was determined to rescue it.
I started studying all about lucid dreaming, and how if you train yourself to become aware that you’re dreaming within a dream, you can control it.
It actually takes a lot more mental preparation and control than I thought. I often fell into sleep paralysis instead, which brought me the most terrifying nightmare experiences I’ve ever had. But at this point nothing was more terrifying to me than never becoming a songwriter.
It took me about a year after the first time I was able to dream lucidly. Something happened I had never expected: I finally tapped into the white forest dream. I felt the cold, my breath, the frostbite in my fingers, and even the smell of the green pines. I was finally able to prevent the ice floor from breaking. I kept playing lightly and waited for the warm rainbow auroras. As soon as they manifested, I was more drawn to them than ever, and I couldn’t help but put my hand to them. Like a wind current flowing upward, they fiercely lifted me up through the white sky, and I woke in my dark room.
With trembling hands, and shaky breath I picked up my phone and recorded the first verse of the song in a voice note. I couldn’t believe it. I had succeeded, but I wanted more. I went back to sleep to chase the chorus, and it appeared right where I had left off. I had finally rescued my first song. A song that would later grant me first prize in two songwriting contests, and admission to Berklee College of Music.
The adventure didn’t end that night. After a few weeks, I could fly across the forest where I found, not one, but several more trapped songs. Songs I have now recorded and performed, and that to this day, I am grateful to have chased and rescued. I know it sounds silly and dramatic, but all musicians have their own unique way to write tunes. I went flying and looking for them in my dreams when I was thirteen. And I’ve been chasing songs ever since.