Friday, June 14, 2019

History Lessons: Music

When I was a young'un, most knew me as a "child prodigy" on the piano. While still in the crib, I would plunk out tunes on a black-and-white key [toy] xylophone, by ear ("Mary Had A Little Lamb"..."Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star"...Sesame Street songs, etc.). I absorbed music like a sponge. Since that toy xylophone had the keys stamped into them, I pretty much learned the music alphabet right along with the English alphabet. Basically..."A" had a tone. "B" had a tone. "C" had a tone. And so forth. Granted, after "G", there was no associative "key" or tone, so...there's that. LOL What do you do with perfect pitch as a blessing and curse?

Yes. The original xylophone...

My Mom was keen on my musical abilities. My sister, Kim, was taking piano lessons from Francis Kelliher, and after Kim would practice her lessons at home, I'd climb up on the piano bench and would pick out, by ear, everything that she had rehearsed. Mom asked Mrs. Kelliher if she would also take me as a student, but I was way too young. Back in the day, no piano teacher (especially in the middle of Wyoming) would take a student as young as three years old. But Mrs. Kelliher said that when I turned four, she would take me. So [near/around] my fourth birthday, I had my first piano lesson. I remember that day...she had four upright pianos in her basement piano studio, and I climbed up on each piano bench and tried each one. Little did I know that I was kind of an "experiment" at the time, but I just remember being in absolute heaven. Upstairs was the Steinway grand; I had never seen a grand piano before. Playing it was a privilege. Master the uprights, practice hard and maybe, just maybe someday you'll be able to play that Steinway.

And I did, but I cannot say it was an easy road. As most parents know, the attention span of a four year old varies, but my Mom kept me in line...she would be right by my side as I practiced and practiced and practiced. At that time, just 30 minutes per day was a chore, for both of us! I remember a lot of tears (as I always wanted to revert to my "by ear" habit to classical training), But then my Mom bought several vinyl records of "Piano Classics", and I would listen to them intently. On Sunday afternoons, we'd go out to my grandparent's farm house, and the Starks family would gather on the porch to sing and play the old folk and bluegrass tunes and hymns. My Dad would play the harmonica; my Uncle Earl would break out the guitar...I would sit there in my Sunday dress and little lace-stocking feet, black patent-leather shoes, smell Grandma's cookies baking in the the afternoon sun sink behind the trees and wait for the crickets to join in the chorus.

Eventually, my parents bought a baby grand and I "graduated" from the old, pink-painted, yellow-keyed antique in the basement, and practiced my lessons (upstairs...out of the dungeon!) in the living room on the Grand. Eventually, I had been disciplined to practice a minimum of four hours a day. Eventually, four hours turned into six. Eventually, I learned Beethoven's Sonata No. 25 in G Major, Opus 79, the first Movement, completely by ear. Eventually, I had finally earned the privilege of playing the Steinway in the Kelliher home.

From there, Mrs. Kelliher said that she had nothing left to "teach" me, and I began my curriculum with Professor Carol Dahlberg at Central Wyoming College. I was in between eighth/ninth grade when I entered my first piano competition. Throughout my junior and high school years, I was submerged into the world of classical piano. I played the organ for church services (taught by Diane Tippets). I sang and played in the high school choirs, played flute and bassoon in the bands. Sometimes I look back and think it would've been nice to have some sort of "normal teenhood"...but at the same time, music has always been my world, my best friend. When I couldn't count on people...I could always count on Music.

I tell folks often: "There's a song for everything," and it's true. Whether you're happy, sad, angry, conflicted...numb and tired, or active and motivated...Music has a way of speaking on the frequencies of the soul. My playlists contain a wide variety of genres...classical, jazz, bluegrass, rock, folk, Bollywood, alternative, pop, etc. Depending on my mood (or coffee intake, LOL), time of day, or life circumstances, I guarantee that there is a song for it. Music has always been...and always will go-to-first medicine, entertainment, love and joy.

As for now, I'm taking an indefinite Sabbatical from my [formal] music career. Thirty years is a long time, a very long journey. I'm not saying I'm giving it up. I'm saying that I've learned a whole lot over the years as to what Music in my life really means. I'm excited to discover what lies ahead.

If you've read this far, thanks. Hopefully, you poured another cup of coffee! 😉

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