I love music. I have my favorite genres. Like Rock. Or British Rock. Or Indie Rock. Or Alternate Rock. But mostly I just like music that is done well, regardless of the flavor. On the other hand, nothing can redeem music done badly. Watching the outtakes of American Idol is case in point. Enough said.
I’m not sure when my love affair with music began. Maybe it’s in my DNA. Maybe I was born with it. Maybe it’s Maybelline.
Little back story. The Old Man played the spoons. His musical “performances” were at times idiosyncratic. Often they were comical. Sometimes just downright annoying. But always surprising. You never knew when he was going to pull out his instrument, aka eating utensil, and start slapping and pummeling his knee. Stomping his foot. Giving it the old Hee Haw. The thing is, playing the spoons isn’t just about the spoons. The knee, thigh and foot are equal and integral elements that compose this unorthodox and curious instrument. Because in fact, the spoon is connected to the thigh bone and the thigh bone is connected to knee bone and the knee bone somehow gets involved with the foot stomping bone. And music is born. Quirky. Zany. Spirited. Lively toe tapping foot stomping lunacy. As a very young child I remember being delighted by his unorthodox talent, his gift for making music from two spoons lifted from Ma’s cutlery drawer. The very ones that were mundanely used to transfer Snap Crackle and Pop from my morning bowl of cereal to my eager mouth. I applauded his unpredictable and spontaneous “performances.” When I grew older, and my musical tastes became more sophisticated, more particular, these spoon “performances” just seemed silly. But that didn’t deter The Old Man. He continued throughout his lifetime to pull out his instrument whenever it struck his musical fancy. Although at the time I didn’t see this as a redeeming attribute, I now admire his abandon. His throw caution to the wind attitude. His oblivious nature.
Possibly, at the heart of The Old Man’s spoon playing was a desire to play a far more conventional instrument. The drums. In fact, he actually confessed this to me once. But then he also said he wanted to be a professional Umpire, so who knows the breadth of his daydreams and depths of his disappointments. Certainly not me. But he was one of those people who liked to tap on things, if this is any indication of his percussive propensity. Pencils on desk tops. Nails into boards. Boots on the doorstep. Spoons on the side of coffee cups. But this is as far as it got. There were no drum kits in the basement. There weren’t even sticks.
But The Old Man and his musical influences may well have been the genesis for my musical avocation. Or perhaps it began with the cardboard piano I practiced on the year I took lessons. Maybe it was all Ma’s record playing on the Hi-Fi with its snazzy wooden cabinet. Or the guitar that sat in the corner behind the chair. Perhaps it was the Hammond Organ that practically played itself. Who can say for sure. I only know that it came. And it hit me pretty hard. But not quite hard enough to make it a career. A vocation. Just enough for an avocation. A little hobby. Musical backdrop to my life.
My musical education goes something like this. I took one year of piano lessons while in grade school. But we didn’t own a piano and cardboard could only take you so far. Too quiet. In grade five I tried out for the choir. I didn’t make the cut. My voice was too quiet. In grade seven our class was given recorders. They were light and plastic. And at times as unpleasant sounding as spoons. In high school I finally got to study music for real. In today’s vernacular I would have been considered a “band geek.” That word didn’t exist back then. Thankfully. We were spared that humiliating, yet somehow fashionably trendy, moniker. Perplexing paradox.
I was assigned a clarinet. I wanted to play flute. Oh well. I grew to love the clarinet despite the challenges with reeds and spit. And I loved playing in an orchestra. Not that we did gigs or concerts or anything even remotely cool. But we did play in class every day, at our weekly all-school assemblies, and we travelled to Wawa and Duluth to perform at other high schools. We also learned to play and march. This is no small feat. Especially for someone like me, who is challenged to walk and chew gum at the same time.
My musical education continued into University. Technically afterwards. A few years after I got my Degrees, in fields unrelated to music, I went back. I studied first year flute and theory. My teacher was the principal flutist for the symphony and she was a virtuoso. At least to me. She did what I wanted to do. She possessed the courage and ability that I lacked. That also made her divine. And the truth was, teaching me put the virtue in her virtuosity. She taught me well. I went from being undisciplined and lazy to a dedicated student who applied herself. I learned how to dig in. Knuckle down. Dive in. At least for one year.
The year of the flute was pretty much the end of my “formal” education in music. But there was one more instrument. The guitar. I’ve owned a few over the years. I’ve also had my share of teachers. I’ve learned a chord or two from each of them. Now I have a collection that I can play, for the most part with ease. With the exception of the dreaded B chord. It appears that I lack the genetic B-code, which provides other guitarists the manual dexterity to contort and stretch their fingers with strength and confidence. I have learned, however, that there are many many great songs that do not contain B chords. I play those.
I love this instrument. Everything about it. The way it looks. How it feels next to my body. I heard Randy Bachman once say (and I’m paraphrasing here) that it’s such a great instrument because you can wrap your arms around it. I like that about it too. You can hug it. No matter how badly I play, it still embraces me.
About twenty years ago I was given the guitar I now play, by the two men I love the most in the world. My son and my husband. I love this guitar almost as much as I love them. My Daion. Over the past twenty years I have played it a lot. But there have been periods, quiet patches, where I just left it leaning in the corner untouched. Someone once advised me to never leave a guitar in its case. To always keep it out in the open where it can be around people – preferably its owner. According to this folklore, this musical mythology, the guitar absorbs the vibes and energy of the people around it. And as a result it plays better. Some would say this is crazy talk. Cuckoo. Cockamamie. Perhaps. But we’re also talking about an instrument that likes to be held and hugged.
A lot of the time I play badly. But that doesn’t deter me. I guess I learned that from The Old Man and his God forsaken spoon music. For the most part I play alone in my room, except for the half hour a week spent with my teacher. Lately we’ve been working on my original tunes. About a year ago I got this notion that maybe I could write a song. I’ve written a thing or two in my life but never music. Random melodies would meander through my mind. Vaguely familiar yet unknown. Like foreigners who show up on your doorstep claiming to be your long lost cousin Vilho from Finland. They weren’t on my playlist. Nor my iPod. They were just tucked away inside my head waiting to be released. Now one by one they are coming out. Like high school clarinet players marching to their own funky beat.
In my room, behind closed doors, I throw caution to the wind. I play my Daion and I sing. With utter abandon. Oblivious of the judgement of those within hearing range. I’m silly. Embarrassing even. I am my father’s daughter. I’m The Old Lady with her God forsaken guitar.