Because I'm involved with music in several ways, people are often surprised I play no instrument. Over my life, I have made some unsuccessful music attempts. When a kid, I took the violin for a couple of weeks, until my mom decided the sound of my practicing was painfully intolerable.
And, like all the little pupils in one of my grammar school grades, I became fairly proficient on the Tonette, but that black plastic tube hardly seems an instrument. Finally, when my creepy piano teacher Mr. Harris began to act weird, those lessons were quickly terminated. Thus far, my music-making career has been short and less than stellar.
My composing stint was one song long. In 7th- or 8th-grade music class, my composition earned an A. I don't recall the tune, but the words are stuck in memory.
How I wish that bell would ring,
It would end this trying bout.
At last it rings—and I sing
Hooray, hooray, school is out!
Indicative of a future as a composer? I vote "no." Nevertheless, without playing an instrument,
my life has had a musical thread. For instance:
- I am fascinated by music, reading book after book, e-mailing with experts, and lately learning all I can about how music affects the brain.
- On both my blogs, I often post about music: see here and here.
- I hear the trumpet at least an hour a day during Edd's practicing, and miss it if he takes a day off.
- I just returned from my 15th year of attending the UNC/Greeley Jazz Festival.
- I often learn new situations by getting a sense of its rhythm (e.g., before I first appeared in court as a lawyer, I frequently sat in the courtroom to discern that rhythm).
- At the very front of my book Triversity Fantasy: Seven Keys to Unlock Prejudice are these words by Roberto Assagioli: "An ordered rhythm in our activities generates harmony in our being, and harmony is a universal law of life."
I could list many more examples, but I think you get a sense of that thread of music.
This weekend, while listening to the big bands and combos at Greeley, I made a decision to learn a musical instrument. Was it the jazz musicians that moved my idea of playing an instrument from a flirting "maybe" to a sold "yes"? Not really. The decision began a few days ago when I was giving my office a thorough dose of organization.
I found sheet music of a song written in the early 1900s by my grandfather Edgar M. Allen. Doing a bit of Googling, I found this [pdf]:
The decade...produced several young composers like Edgar M. Allen, who while a student at the University of Minnesota wrote three musical comedies: "The Prof and the Princess" (1910), "Knowland" (1911), and "The Girl in the Moon" (1911), which together include a total of fifteen published songs that were well received not only by campus audiences but also at public performances in downtown theaters. But Allen did not live up to the opinion of his fellow students that he was "half and half of Richard Mansfield and George Cohan." He left his cello and music in general for newspaper work in California. "Popular Music in Minnesota" (Minnesota History)
I also found a couple of other articles about Gramps's musicals: "Student Opera Pleases at Initial Performance,""Opening Night of 'The Prof. and the Princess'" and "Senior Class Will Stage Musical Comedy by Allen" (all are from The Minnesota Daily and are in pdf].
Seems there may be some music in my paternal DNA, and likely in my maternal DNA, too. Is it a pull of the genes that made my decision to learn an instrument final? Well, almost . . .
Today my musician friend Marcia Bauman was kind enough to play for me over the phone the above-mentioned sheet music. As she played, I could hear the voice of Gramps again coming to me from over a century ago. I recalled that he would usually play the piano and sing when we visited him over the years before he died in the late 1970s, but I never knew he had composed when young. Hearing his song today was almost the final determinant in my taking my first step on the road to becoming a musician.
In this morning's conversation, Marcia read me something she had written for her business brochure. That was what made me decide to begin learning an instrument immediately. If you don't yet play, maybe Marcia's words will call you down the musician road, too. She wrote:
ABOUT MUSIC LESSONS . . .
When we are called upon to develop new skills, we can be thrown into a fascinating paradox: we have to do the very things we cannot do, in order to be able to do them. Learning to compose or play a musical instrument is an opportunity to go beyond our limits.
Often we take pleasure in learning, playing an instrument or composing, for the sheer pleasure of engaging our creativity. Other times, we might resist a confrontation with our limitations. If one is willing to look closely and deeply, resistance can be recognized as the door long ago slammed shut ... .
Click to download the rest.
Now that I am committed to mastering an instrument, I am also planning to write about my music lessons. Not here, but somewhere, probably on the Internet. I don't want to forget my steps and missteps. And I want to chronicle how I resist that "confrontation with [my] limitations." I know I will resist.
Join me in learning to play?
Note (added May 5, 2011): I found an article written about my grandfather at the time of his 84th birthday (in 1973). It may have been published in the Brentwood News; I can't tell from the clipping. The photo is below. Click to read the article [pdf].