Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Singing the praises of making music
The teeny little house on Woods Avenue in Courtenay is still there. I have a flash of a memory of learning my first Christmas carols at the piano in that house, where my teacher Kay Wilson lived. I was 10.
Kay and my determined mother gave me one of the greatest gifts of my life starting that day - the longing to make music. I’m reminded of such things this year more than most, what with music being such a major part of my life again in all kinds of unexpected ways.
If I could recommend one thing to add to your busy 2010 schedule, it’s this: Make music. Help your children make music. Having the ability and opportunity to create music has been a wondrous thing for me, and I wish it for everyone for the joy it brings.
Learning the piano was years of hard slogging, I admit. I’d love to tell you that I laid my hands on the keyboard for the first time and the rest was glorious history; the truth is that I’ve always had to practise long and hard. I was ready to quit when I was a tempestuous 14-year-old, but to my great fortune Kay and my mother ganged up on me and wouldn’t allow it.
Effort notwithstanding, the journey has been amazing. When I make music, all is right with the world - for an hour at least, or maybe even a whole lingering afternoon if I’ve got the time for it. How many things can you say that about?
Learning music has also turned out to be a fine primer for life. It taught me that the way to get better at something is to practise, and that most problems can be sorted out if you just take things slow. I learned the discipline of doing something every day even when I didn’t feel like it, and that the magic would find its way to me even on bad days if I just kept playing.
Music is all about that magic, of course.
I remember how it felt to be able to play Away in a Manger for the first time, my hands performing miracles before my very eyes. I still feel that same rush for every new piece of music I learn. And nowadays my musical discoveries might just as easily involve something other than the piano, because the other great gift music gives you is the ability to go in different directions.
A long-time classical pianist, I never would have expected to be jamming tunes from the 1930s and ‘40s with my daughter at our now-regular gigs at local retirement facilities. But I am.
I wouldn’t have expected to be playing French musettes on the accordion, either. But I’m doing that, too, and got my busker’s licence this past summer solely for the pleasure of playing the accordion outdoors. And I’m three happy years into my first real “band” experience, playing taiko drums with Victoria’s Uminari ensemble.
I fear the modern time, where it’s possible to walk through a home and not see a single instrument. Or where music in the schools is viewed as “discretionary,” and its absence denies children their moment of discovery. Music and art truly are the universal languages, and no child should miss out on such a profound way to experience the emotion and beauty of the world.
The very good thing about music is that it’s there for whoever wants it. Nerve-wracking recitals and conservatory exams gave me a healthy sense of my own limitations - another excellent life lesson - and I knew early on that I had neither the natural brilliance nor practise habits to become the next Glenn Gould. But hey, I can still make some pretty good music.
That said, the lesson I’ve learned lately is that sometimes you need to let go of your limitations and just jump into the deep end anyway. Set your mind and best practise habits on achieving something that looks out of reach, and there’s no saying where it might lead you. Thank you to my youngest daughter Rachelle for breaking me out of 40 years of certainty that I couldn’t sing harmony.
You don’t have to be rich to bring music into your life, either. If lessons are out of the question, scrounge up a used instrument or two and see what happens. Open your mouth and sing. Tap that place inside you that’s going to light up like the proverbial Christmas tree when it gets the chance to make music.
Happy New Year, everyone. May the beat go on.