Fingers are flying, ascending a scale of rising crescendos, a bittersweet melody, growing into a symphony of sound; the counter melody strikes up and the two refrains begin a tumultuous battle of black and white keys, then finally, a quiet peacefulness resolves the dissonance. Sitting at the piano, brows furrowed in concentration, his fingers are tense, and clenching the keys. A lingering sadness rings in the final notes of sophomore Bryce Flora’s original song “The Fighter.” Bryce’s song isn’t just about a battle between melodies; it’s about a battle for life. For his mother’s life.
“Music doesn’t always make me happier, and it doesn’t always make me sad, it just enhances the mood I’m in,” Bryce said. “But whenever I’m listening to a song, it’s almost as if the colors…kind of change, and they seem brighter, or somehow deeper.”
Music has been a part of Bryce since childhood. It started with banging on the piano keys when he was only six, but has now evolved into writing his own music, for others and for himself. It’s always been there for him, even when the unimaginable happened.
It’s been a year and a half since Bryce’s mother, Kathy, passed away from cancer in her lungs, brain and liver. Though Kathy had been suffering from cancer for seven years, the pain of losing his mother was so much more than he expected.
“It was almost as if everything kind of shut down temporarily, seeing her body lying still on the bed motionless,” Bryce said. “It was weird; it wasn’t even sorrow, it was just a deep numbness, like I wasn’t even processing it.”
Losing his mother impacted even seemingly small aspects of Bryce’s everyday life. She would never attend another one of his orchestra concerts, she would never again ask him how his day was at school. It led to a string of transformations in their family as a whole, and has also affected the way Bryce’s dad, Doug, feels about life in general.
“When you’re in the game, you never can see that you are going to lose,” Doug said. “[When you lose], you start to treat time differently. I’ve learned that time should be treated with caution, and that time is such a precious little thing that we have, and there is no promise that tomorrow will be here.”
* * *
In the middle of freshman year — six months after his mother’s death — the grief hit him the hardest. For Bryce, the reality of it all was harder to swallow than it was for the rest of his family — it took half a year for him to finally start grieving.
“For some reason, I was the only person in my family who didn’t grieve,” Bryce said. “ I don’t know why, maybe at the time I just hadn’t accepted it yet. I thought I had, and I thought I was just strong, but it I think it hit me later than everybody else,”
Through the worst of Bryce’s grievances, he turned to music. When he couldn’t bear to look at a sunset without the thought of his mom smiling along with him, or seeing other peoples’ moms looking at their own sons the way he remembered she looked at him — with pride and love — he went straight to the piano.
“That’s when I wrote “The Fighter,” Bryce said. “I didn’t even realize that the song was about [my mom] but when I listened to it, it sounded like a battle, and I decided that it was a battle against her cancer.”
Bryce has never needed music more in his entire life. His primary solace was sitting down on the dull, black, squeaking piano bench and stroking the worn and chipping keys. Doug suggested that he take his proclivity to music and turn it into something that would benefit others.
“I think we were all going through some challenges, some difficult times,” Doug said. “And I think we were interested in finding something we could sink our teeth into that wasn’t about us.”
That’s when Bryce and his dad came up with the idea of a music program they started Music Makes it Better, to benefit those that are elderly, sick or disabled. Though Bryce was a little hesitant at first about doing the program due to his grief, he quickly got into it after his first performance. The beaming faces of everyone he played for, their enthusiastic singing and swaying, their off-key voices adding to the reverberating strum of the guitar and his sister’s voice never sounded sweeter to Bryce. All of his performances have evoked the same reaction: pure bliss.
“I like to watch others watch [Bryce and Reagan] perform,” Doug said. “Instead of just enjoying music myself, and seeing how that can make me happier and transform my mood, I have learned that watching others enjoy music is really what it’s all about.”
Bryce’s wisdom gained through his experiences so early in life have given him the desire to serve, and to touch others with the music that he created through his challenges. Sitting down, and plucking out patterns on his guitar, grunting with satisfaction as the right chord comes through, Bryce created what was to become the quintessence of joy.
“When I started really getting into Music Makes it Better, things started improving for me,” Bryce said. “I’m not sure if it was the music program itself, but I think it had a part in it. It made me feel like a better person in the world,”
According to Doug, Music Makes it Better has revived this family just by simply giving a little.
“It changes how you look at what the true purpose of music is,” Doug said. “We should be using our talents and abilities for those who would benefit by it. It has changed us as a family, and changed our outlook on music.”
Bryce’s solace is at the piano where everything resolves into a different kind of calm, not silence, not satisfaction exactly, but a sense of release. Where he can become the music he plays; where he can describe the story he took part in. Where he can resolve this battle of black and white keys, the battle which he won. One small victory in the upheaval of all, that seven-year battle for Kathy’s life.