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By Ron Stutts

Music is the International Language

By Ron Stutts Posted May 27, 2011 at 12:48 am

You’ve heard it a thousand times and it’s true. Music really is the international language! I just got back from a trip to Italy and there, I enjoyed a refresher course. Music wasn’t a big part of our stay there, but I heard enough to know that whatever country we live in, whatever our race or ethnicity, and whatever our religion, we can all be moved by music. Regardless of the language we speak. It breaks down all the barriers.

Of course, I’m my own jukebox, with music playing in my head, no matter where I am. My daughter, Cam, is a student at NC State University, and has spend the past semester studying abroad, in a charming little town called Tuscania, about an hour north of Rome. On the weekends, she’s had the opportunity to visit the big cities in Italy, and other countries, too, and has made some lifelong friends. We’re so glad she had the chance to experience this! She really wanted to live in Tuscania, where no one speaks English (except for a few people at the school) and she would be forced to use her Italian language skills. It was total immersion into the Italian culture, and I am really proud of her for diving in and making the most of the situation.. The only problem is that she fell head over heels in love with that little town and all its people, and now she wants to go back. Bev and I decided to spend some vacation time in Italy–and our son, Zac was able to go, too, and for that I am grateful. Our #1 objective, though, was to make sure Cam came back! Mission accomplished…at least for now!

We first visited Rome, dined at a restaurant in a central piazza, and had a great Italian meal under the stars. There was a street musician playing across the way. This young woman was singing and playing an acoustic guitar, and I was surprised to hear that her songs were all in English. “Light My Fire,” a U2 song I can’t remember now, “Yesterday,” and several other tunes that we immediately recognized. I decided to go over and talk to her, just to see where she was from and to compliment her on her performance. I was shocked to discover she was a native Italian, living in Rome, and her accent was so heavy I could barely make out what she was saying. Yet her singing was in perfect English, clear as a bell, with no hint of any kind of accent at all. It reminded me of when I first heard the Beatles’ speaking voices with those distinctive Liverpool accents that didn’t show up at all in their singing. She asked me where I lived and as soon as I said “Chapel Hill,” her eyes widened and she said “Ah! James Taylor.” And then she said she would play a song for me. Before I could get back to the table, she was singing “You’ve Got A Friend,” again, in perfectly executed English. It was beautiful. It was only later that I told her I had a radio show and was planning to mention her in this blog on our website. She was absolutely charming and very talented, even though I had a difficult time understanding her when she talked! It didn’t really matter, because we liked the same music and there was an instant connection. Amazing!
If I had her version of J.T.’s song (written by Carole King!) I would share it, but since I don’t, I guess James will have to do.

When we got to the incredibly beautiful Tuscania where Cam’s been living for the past 4 months, I can’t recall hearing much music. It struck me, though, that the Italian language itself is beautiful. My favorite part of the Tuscania experience was being invited for dinner at the Nicolai house. Even though Cam had been living in an apartment, one of her new close friends had these wonderful Italians as a “host family” and she had been spending a lot of time there. Sitting at that table for hours, eating their delicious food, and listening to the conversation was melodious enough for me. Cam and her friend, Eva, had to translate for everyone, because we didn’t know Italian and they didn’t know English. What an unforgettable experience! I love those people. It’s good to know Cam and the others had “parents” in Italy, too!

Cam had told us earlier that a lot of Italians had ring tones for their cell phones that were American songs. And we heard evidence of that. Wherever we went…Rome, Tuscania, Florence, Monterossa, a part of the Cinque Terre region (maybe the most beautiful place on earth) Pisa, or Venice, we heard American popular music. Some songs in the Italian language, too, but mostly songs in English. I was watching the Italian version of MTV in our hotel room in Florence and there was Jennifer Lopez at #2 on the music video chart. (Not a good piece of music.) Of course, we heard some classical music, as well, particularly around the museums and historic buildings, but for the most part, we could have been anywhere in the United States.

Before we even left home, Cam had shared a music video with me on facebook by Vasco Rossi. Sort of an Italian Joe Cocker. Doesn’t sound like Joe…just similar in appearance. He’s really not much to look at, but is an established popular artist in Italy (and sings in Italian) and for some reason, I kinda like the guy. He’s got this cocky way about him, and waves his hands all over the place like most Italians (that’s a great trait!) Just take a moment to watch this, and give it a chance.

There are numerous popular artists in Italy, of course, including Lucio Battisti, Pino Daniele, Zucchero, and a person who’s been described to me as the Italian Bob Marley (as far as cult status goes) Fabrizio De Andre. I’ve heard only a sampling of their music so I’m not really recommending it–just throwing it out there if you’re interested in exploring.

Still, I can’t hide my American roots. The song I kept hearing over and over again in my head was Billy Joel’s “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” from “The Stranger.” Every time we sat down in a restaurant, and listened to Cam order our food in perfect Italian, and select a bottle of wine for the meal (if you’re eating in Italy, you must drink wine) I kept hearing “bottle of red, bottle of white,” in my head. My family got sick of hearing me recite those lyrics. I couldn’t wait to play the whole song when I got back to the States. I’ve always thought it was a great song, and now it’s taken on special meaning.

I’ve never traveled to Italy before, but I would return in a heartbeat. Just today on the phone, Zac said, “Let’s go back,” and that’s exactly what I was thinking. I love music. Almost any kind of music. And wherever you go, you can find others who feel the same way. Do you enjoy the music of other countries? Other cultures? I’m curious to know. For now, I’ll just end with one Italian word. I won’t sing it; I’ll just say it.

Ciao!

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