Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Spark - Music Series, part two

Some of my earliest memories are of lying in my room at night, and hearing the sounds of my father playing the piano in the living room. I fell in love with music from listening to him play. It never occurred to me that it wasn’t necessarily typical to have someone playing an instrument in the house all the time. I guess I figured everybody had a family member who played often. But I was lucky in that regard. My dad had a brown Kimball baby grand, and I loved that piano and all the memories it created for me. If my father hadn’t constantly provided me exposure to his playing, I know I still would’ve come to love music, but it probably wouldn’t have happened as early as it did. My dad would sit down at the piano nearly every night to practice, and he played a variety of music. I heard countless church hymns (he was the pianist at our church), some classical pieces, and a bit of ragtime also. My dad loves George Gershwin music, and I’m glad for that because when he played Gershwin, I was exposed to very different rhythms than with the classical or religious pieces.

When my parents began sending me to piano lessons, I learned that while I was very interested and excited to learn how to play, I wasn’t too enthusiastic about learning to read music. All I wanted to do was play the piano, and at first all my piano teacher wanted me to do was read music out of a book and do sight-reading exercises. Talk about all work and no play. I wanted to hear myself playing songs, but that takes a little more time to achieve than I had originally assumed. I figured I would have one lesson and be able to play anything I wanted, perfectly. I was, as they say, ready to jam. Surprisingly, that’s not what happened. Learning to read music wasn’t especially difficult, but it took more patience than I typically kept on hand at the time, so my parents had to begin forcing me to do some serious foraging within myself to find an extra stash of patience and focus I wasn’t even sure existed (turns out it was down near my toes, and I didn’t have nearly as much stashed away as my parents claimed I did). I have the sneaking suspicion that I’m not the only child in history who has had this problem. In fact, as time went on, I tried to find ways to avoid reading music. I knew I was supposed to learn a song by reading the music, but if I could hear it played once or twice, I could usually figure it out from there without having to do the dirty work of sight-reading. It was just easier to play by ear. Granted, I could read music, but when I was still learning, it took longer to figure out the notes from the page than from hearing someone else play them. Essentially I was being lazy, and looking for the easy way out.

It was also in my early years that I developed a distinct fondness for music that sounded melancholy. Pieces written in a minor key were favorites because they created a feeling of sorrow that I identified with. They inspired me and made me love music even more. I began to comprehend the power of music, and the magic it makes possible. Those somber pieces made me feel understood; they created an atmosphere that represented how I felt, and they expressed emotions I wouldn’t fully understand for years. I could relate to the music in a way I was unable to relate to another person. I absorbed it as a means of communication and expression. I feel like music taught me that every emotion I possess is allowed to be acknowledged and expressed. As I got older, I felt that it was alright to convey the sadness I carried most of the time; it was a safe and even healthy outlet for the emotions that are difficult to put into words and share with other people. With music, whether listening, playing, or composing, my ever-present depression is allowed to be recognized; I am not expected or told to cheer up, and I am not made to apologize for it.

Music is a precious art that can be at once empowering and humbling, and it is a gift to create as well as to hear. Obviously some people are more musically talented than others, but I think some people also have an innate attraction to music, where music is not just something that drones on in the background, but is a priceless and integral component of life. It nurtures the soul in a way that little else can, and it allows for a stunning expression of life's emotions, from the worst sorrow to the greatest joy. I plan to write about my experiences with composing, playing, and listening to music, and I am hopeful that I’ll be able to convey the love and respect I have for it.


djaware November 4, 2009 at 12:04 AM  

Thanks for sharing, that was interesting to hear about your early experiences listening to and playing music. So tonight I went to a talk at the library of congress, actually one of a series of talks on music and the brain, but afterwards there was classical quartet, the Zemlinsky Quartet. They were playing the old violins, viola, and cello (3 are from stradivari) that were donated to the loc. Anyway, I had gotten a quick thing of soup and was overly tired after eating it. I'm sitting there in this great hall with great musicians playing mozart with beautiful instruments and I'm falling asleep! It was dreadful and I've been feeling kind of sick so I left. Kind of a shame but music just wasn't happening for me there this evening. If you're not familiar with those free concerts (think we talked about this before) check them out and the series too - there's one coming up on why we like sad music.

Kris November 4, 2009 at 11:19 AM  

"I could relate to the music in a way I was unable to relate to another person."

I couldn't agree more(though I'll try) - the mark of a great songwriter(or writer in general, really) is they make it seem like the song is about you. It seems like McCartney, Lennon, Dylan, Paul Westerberg, or Elliott Smith is right there singing to you.

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