I’m surprised it took me this long to choose music for a topic. Maybe that’s because it’s a little like examining my skin, or my hair. I don’t know how much of it was learned, and how much is innate, but whichever, it is definitely a part of me now.
It say it could be learned because I started music lessons when I was 4. That seems a little young, and I’m not aware of showing any spectacular tendencies at that age. I was reading, and I was able to sit up straight and push the keys, which seem to be the only starting requirements for piano. I was trained in the Suzuki piano method, for better or worse. The “better” part of that was it’s intense focus on memory work, which probably helped develop my good memory that I use all over the place now, not just in music. The “worse” part was it’s intense focus on playing sheet music. I never learned anything about music theory, beyond what was needed to read and express what was written. When I went to college at a heavy music school, I learned just how lacking I was. I could not improvise, I could not play the music in my head. All I could do was search for sheet music that sounded good, that sounded similar to what was in my head, and play that. I have tried since to make sense of improv and jazz theory, but I’ve never made much progress. For better or worse, I am a very good performance pianist only.
I’ve explored other musical paths as well. From as early as I can remember, I loved singing along with the radio and in church, and I was the youngest member of the church choir at the time at my church in Georgetown. (I suspect they might have started the youth choir in an attempt to get me out of the adult choir, but I don’t know!) Whenever there was a talent show, I was there singing. My singing along with everything prompted my mother’s removal of a Madonna album from my possession when it came out.
Heading into sixth grade, it was time for band to start in school (we didn’t have an orchestra). When “band camp” rolled around, and everybody went to try the instruments they were interested in, nobody went to the double-reeds…so of course that’s where I went! And I picked bassoon because the only other person there wanted the oboe. I loved playing bassoon, though. I had big hands that could reach all the way around the instrument, and I loved the rumbly feeling of the lowest notes. I remember the sounds it could make, the smell of a fresh reed, the way my father joked about the sounds of a dying cow. I played oboe some years, too, mostly for the challenge, but I preferred the bassoon, and I played that in the band off and on until I went to college, getting into and winning several competitions, both solo and with the band. I never had an instrument of my own, though, always playing on the school’s instruments, so when I left Georgetown, I didn’t have an oboe or bassoon to take with me.
In 10th grade I discovered show choir and fell in love all over again. Talk about singing and performance! I got to combine my love of singing, my love of dance, and my love of performance, in an atmosphere where nobody cared what I looked like as long as I could sing and dance. We were fortunate in having a wonderful choir director who really knew what a show choir should look like and do, and with his direction we won almost every competition we went to that year, even heading to Los Angeles for a national show at the end of the year. (That was an absolutely awesome, best-ever school trip, and I remember almost nothing of the choir part, instead remembering the plane ride and accompanying theft by others of the little alcohol bottles, wandering the streets of LA with Mr. J looking for Taco Hell, staying with host families, getting caught in a line when Six Flags closed and having to ride home in the equipment bus, how bad LA smelled when we got off the plane, etc.) My parents even talked the school into lettering me in choir, even though I was only in it for one year, because I was leaving for college and couldn’t do more.
I missed choir so much I tried out for a musical the following summer, when I was 16. They seemed to like my singing but told me to come back when I was older. Pbbt.
In college, alongside finding out I was deficient on the piano, I discovered a whole new instrument to love: the pedal harp. I got to play this for two years, again only ever playing on school-owned instruments (have you ever seen the price of a pedal harp???). I practiced that harp until my fingers bled, quite literally! (oops…sorry about the blood on the floor…) I loved it so much. The harp is on the top of my nobody’s-ever-going-to-buy-it-anyway wish list.
I’ve done other things. My own piano was my first major purchase as an adult. I taught myself flute and guitar, a bit. I taught at a piano conservatory in Virginia for a little while. I’ve played in restaurants and hotels. I learned I could win pretty much any karaoke competition in DC, until they made me stop entering (the prizes were good while they lasted, though). I performed as one of three singers with a swing band in DC for a while. I learned how to dj karaoke as a mobile dj in DC, then worked as a dj at an all-karaoke bar in Austin for a while. Most recently, I discovered the joy of drumming, and really learning the bodhrán is next on my musical to-do list.
And then I had kids.
That’s pretty sad, but accurate, too. My last DJ job was while they were babies, and was mostly a way just to get out of the house a couple nights a week. I stopped playing piano because I couldn’t practice without small people banging the keys, pulling my hair, getting underfoot. I’ve tried to pick it back up a few times. It’s not like you ever really forget it, but it does take consistent, fairly time-consuming practice, and it just hasn’t happened. I don’t perform anymore, with anyone, anywhere, and I miss it dearly.
This is probably another piece of myself that I should try to care for more.