Saturday, December 3, 2011


It certainly wasn’t my mother’s fault that I ended up playing the ukulele and the radio, rather than a real musical instrument (apologies to all ukulele players.) She tried her best, and I simply was a recalcitrant child.

Between the ages of 5 and 8, when I guess I was more pliable and more amenable to doing what my mother suggested, I was given violin lessons. Mother always told us kids (myself and my younger sister who also got the violin lessons a couple years after I did and who persevered a whole lot longer than I did) that violin music was the music of angels. So of course wanting to appear as close to angelic as possible, we both did what mother wanted us to do.

I do not recall practicing, so apparently it was not a big issue at our house. I have one old recording (now made into a mp3 file) of me playing Hungarian Airs – and for an 8 year old, at least I can say although I was not a prodigy at least I acquitted myself well. I hit my notes right-on! But alas, by age 8 my violin playing was over. Although I don’t remember why I quit, it probably was my idea, not my mother's.

I think I mentioned in an earlier blog that in seventh grade we were given the option of taking music lessons through school. I guess I was among the last to sign up, because by the time I got to the head of the line there were only bassoons left. I could barely lift a bassoon off the floor, and I could barely get a single puff of air through the reed. In just looking at me, a smallish definitely skinny wimp, whoever was in charge of assigning instruments should have known right away that we were not a good match. I have no recollection of ever learning to make more than a toot or two, but many years later a childhood friend told me that we used to practice together at my house, she on her saxophone and me on the bassoon. “You looked so earnest,” she shared, “and I remember the pitiful sounds that you produced.” So apparently I gave it a good try, but I would guess my bassoon playing lasted more on the order of weeks than months, before it too became history just as the violin had.

Next was a go on the piano. All I wanted was to be able to accompany people while they sang. I wanted immediate results without practice. My piano teacher, a Mrs. Stretz, was determined that along with my fingers tinkling through some simple etudes I was going to learn music theory. I know I got past “Swans on the Lake” in the first book – I definitely remember a rondo among the pieces I learned. But I wanted only chords to accompany a song. I envisioned myself sitting at the piano with a group of friends around me singing away. I didn’t want etudes, rondos, or especially triads and the like. Mrs. Stretz wouldn’t budge in her teaching methods and I convinced mother that I was grossly unhappy with my piano lessons, so they went by the wayside too.

My last foray into music lessons was in high school when I thought if only I could learn the guitar I could be happy and need nothing more out of life. Again, I thought in terms of accompanying people on the guitar; I now suspect it was recognition I was after, not music. My guitar teacher held up classical guitarist Andres Segovia as a model in the same way that my piano teacher held up pianist Jose Iturbi. This is what they both saw ahead for me, and I can’t fault them for that. However, I didn’t want it and in spite of my mother’s pleadings, I quit music lessons for good!

To this day, I still can only play the radio (although now it is more like CDs on my computer) and the ukulele, although I don’t have one anymore. But what was left after these four bouts of music lessons was a love of music, a good ear, and an ability to sight-read music. These found expression in my adult life by singing in choirs and leading children’s choirs. Some things just satisfy a person’s soul and these did it for me. I have a happy and a satisfied feeling when I think back on those times.

But oh, I can’t forget playing the uke. That was as near as I ever got to making music on instruments. Playing and teaching the uke was another one of the few things I ever did that was just pure and simple fun! So I suspect all those music lessons weren’t for naught. I have my mother to thank for them!

1 comment:

Olga said...

Clearly your lessons were not wasted, they just needed to find an expression that fit you.