Study Guide

Homecoming Music

By Cynthia Voigt

Music

Music and singing follow the Tillermans all through their journey. The four kids love to sing because it connects them to their mother and father, and Dicey remembers the two of them singing in the house (before Dad left, that is). Momma taught the kids lots of songs that they sing as they walk and work, and by making music, they remember Momma and keep her alive in their hearts. Cue the warm and fuzzies.

Momma's favorite song was probably "Pretty Peggy-o," which is about a girl who runs away with her lover. Huh, that sounds a whole lot like Momma and their father, doesn't it? Edie sings a version of the same song, but hers is different—so maybe she's not too happy about running off with Louis. Check it out:

She strummed a couple of chords, then raised her face. But this wasn't their song. This song was about William the false lover and how he tricked pretty Peggy-O into running away with him but then murdered her. Edie sang the song quick and cruel, with sharp metallic sounds from her instrument. (1.5.20)

Music reveals a person's inner state. Momma may have been mentally ill, but she was a happy person who taught her children the joy and beauty of music; when she's gone, her kids sing to express their joy. Sure, times are tough, but when life is going well and the Tillerman kids feel happy and secure, they express that joyful feeling by singing:

"We can't sing—but I sure feel like it," she said. "I don't really know why."

[…]

Maybeth began to sing, and they joined in without thinking. They kept their voices down, just in case, but they sang eagerly. (2.1.185, 2.3.203)

It's interesting that the only time the kids don't sing is when they're absolutely down in the dumps (no food, no money, no hope) and when they're with Cousin Eunice—she definitely wouldn't be delighted to hear all those secular songs floating through her house. This absence of song makes it clear the kids are really struggling at these points. But once they get to Abigail's, the Tillermans are back to their musical selves, letting us know that things are looking up. In fact, they probably make some of the most beautiful music while they're with her:

They let the echoes of melody fade away before they moved again.

"I'll give you this much," their grandmother said from the doorway. "Your momma taught you how to sing." (2.9.94-95)

This probably the first compliment that Abigail has for the kids. Maybe it's the beauty and joy that they're expressing that starts to wear her down a little, too. If these kids can be happy and sing in any circumstance, if they can love and remember their mother, even though she left them, maybe things can work out? Fingers are definitely crossed.

P.S.: On a symbolic level, there are ways in which music and water work similarly, so be sure to read up on water elsewhere in this section if this interests you.

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