I believe that making music is something everyone can and should do.
My powerful feelings about music are deeply rooted in my life-long problems with creating it. My mother was an opera singer, but my father is the guy who sings so out of tune you can’t stand next to him while singing “Happy Birthday.” I joke that, due to me gene pool, I can sing every other note. A student once told me, as some sort of consolation, that if I sang I would never have become a teacher. Truly, though, I would rather sound like Emmy Lou Harris in front of a microphone than me, in front of the classroom.
I am a listener, therefore—music providing the background of my life. As a child and even into my teens I had only a plastic record player in my bedroom and a transistor radio in the kitchen with which to avail myself to music. In the morning, my mother listened to Morning Pro Musica with Robert J. Lurtsema, and I learned to hear Lurstema’s pauses as part of the music. It is amazing how much music I eked out of those two scanty sources.
Whenever I visit my friend Elaine, a concert pianist, I am voracious for her music. And during my most recent visit she satiated me completely by not only playing but also analyzing with me one of Beethoven’s last piano sonatas, Opus 109. I made a point of studying the piece ahead of time, and was struck by the odd nature of the arrangement. It began, I thought, like a Bach fantasia and concluded quietly, esoterically, like Bill Evans playing live at the Village Vanguard with just a soupcon of heroin slowness.
I am proud to report that Elaine liked my read on the overall structure. At that time, as she has done many times prior, she asked me point blank why I didn’t make music and only listened.
So lately, I have aspired to try to make music, to move music from the background into the foreground of my life. She suggested the cello, but it seemed like too much of a monetary commitment. Eventually, after much listening to the music I love, I bought a beautiful little dulcimer on ebay.
I also bought a “Teach Yourself Dulcimer” DVD and have grown surgically attached to Youtube, replete with instructional videos. For all my efforts, though, my skill level is not progressing rapidly, if at all. The dulcimer doesn’t feel comfortable in my lap, I cannot move my fingers along the strings rapidly enough, and most of the time I cannot follow the well-meaning instructors on the DVD and Youtube.
I struggle with the idea that my making music was not meant to be, that, if I had the ability somewhere in me, I would have learned long ago.
But I persevere. Ultimately, I believe some day I will make music the way Elaine does. It will be a long frustrating road that will punish my husband’s ears as well as my own patience. But it will be worth it.
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