Whistlin’ Dixie

Madeline Pennino

Madeline Pennino

Hearst Connecticut Media

I can’t possibly count the amount of times I have been scolded for “whistlin’ Dixie” (as my mother might call it) around the house. I always whistle at a convenient time — like when my younger sisters are doing homework, or my dad’s on a conference call, or my mom needs help and I’m off on my own whistling and can’t hear her.

I promise this is not a bad habit, it’s all just a coincidence, and most importantly — whistling, singing, humming music — it is my outlet for stress.

Over the years I’ve discovered and maintained many outlets for stress — writing being one of them. I can escape into the words I write, either freeing myself of emotions, or releasing my creative influx onto paper. As a seven-year-old, I tried swimming for the first time, quickly finding it socially enjoyable, as well as a tremendous exercise. What I did not expect to gain while swimming back and forth to complete each practice’s numerous sets is the opportunity to both clear my head, focusing on breathing through the water, and reflect on issues presently challenging me and how to solve them.

By far my greatest coping mechanism for all the stress that comes with teen years (and most especially high school years) is music.

The moment my busy house is free of all siblings and parents, I stand in my vaulted-ceiling living room and transform all emotion and anxiety into song. My song choice varies, but rest assured, each song is powerful, often a ballad of some sort, and chosen to address certain feelings or stressful situations.

Singing helps attach my feelings to words; my emotions surrender to the sweet and strong melodies, often bringing tears to my eyes; the technique necessary to properly enunciate each word and breath through every phrase offers a physical release.

When looking for power, for triumph, for revelation, I turn to “The Phantom of the Opera,” singing songs such as “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” to acknowledge feelings of discouragement, and by the end of the song, gain a sense of empowerment and motivation once more.

Yes, I listen to the literal lyrics of the song, beginning with, “Now my world is shattered,” to “No more gazing across the wasted years/Help me say goodbye,” but I also feel the song building. I start off quiet and timid, and as the words progressively express the central conflict, my volume increases, the phrases elongate, and the lyrics and I intensify to forte, full strength. At forte, not only have the lyrics changed tone from hopeless to inspired, but adrenaline pumps through my veins, building to the finish. I’m on the last lap, about to go under the flags and touch the wall, until finally I’ve reached it: Emotions expressed. Stress relieved.

Sometimes, you also just need a little of Broadway’s “Annie” and the band Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know” to sweetly remind yourself that “the sun will come out tomorrow,” and there’s always a place that “only we know” to escape, and recuperate.

With music, also comes imagination. When I find a quiet moment in my day, or if I lack free time at all, I play classical music off my phone, the iconic cellist and composer Yo-Yo Ma being a favorite of mine. I dive into the sound and picture myself elegantly moving through my day with the music following me- — almost like background music for characters in a movie. The rise and fall of intensity motivates me; my math homework moves with the song, starting out easy, a soft and slow-paced melody, gradually increasing in difficulty to the powerful ending of the song.

High school is stressful. Life is stressful — but it is also incredible. Sometimes, I listen to music, and I wonder how anything or anyone could ever make such sounds; how any song could mesh together so seamlessly, or any lyrics could fit my life so perfectly. Everyone needs an outlet. Everyone needs an escape from the bustling day-to-day, hour-to-hour pace of life we live. Sometimes, we need to rush everyone out of the house so we can belt or rock out for a few minutes. Sometimes, we need an hour out of our day to dive in the pool to forget or reflect. Sometimes, we need to put self care first, so that we can enjoy all that life has to offer — music, exploring, exercise, crabbing — without missing a beat.

Madeline Pennino is a senior at Wilton High School.

She shares this column with three classmates.