Saturday, February 1, 2014

So glad music was a part of my college years...

I know I've mentioned it before, but I have really musical parents.  My mother is a very talented pianist and played organ for many years at churches around the country and in England and Canada.  Good church organists are always in demand.  My dad, before his voice got ruined by a trach tube, was a very good singer.  I also have quite a few musical relatives, many of whom are self-taught and quite talented at what they do.  At least one aunt and one uncle taught themselves to play organ and have played professionally.  My cousin is a professional musician who plays several instruments and sings.  Music has always come very naturally for me, as well.

I'm not sure exactly why, but though I have always loved music, I never stuck with lessons as a kid.  I studied piano for a couple of years as a very small child and discovered I have perfect pitch.  You would have thought my mom would have insisted I learned to play piano, but I think she got tired of my complaints about practicing.  Though I was pretty good at playing by ear, I never got very good at the piano and quit by the time I was eight.

At ten, I decided to try out for the school band.  The band teacher held auditions for drums.  He didn't audition for any other instrument.  Apparently, drumming requires good rhythm, so he selected the drummers for our school band.  I tried out and made the cut, though I had trouble holding the sticks properly.  So I switched to clarinet, because my sister had played it and we already owned one.  I played for a year, then took summer band.  I was reasonably proficient at playing clarinet, but wanted to spend my free time with horses.  So I quit band.

I was not into singing because that was what my dad did and it drove me crazy.  He was in every ensemble and his singing was a great source of pride.  I stayed far away from singing and didn't let my parents know I could do it until I was 18.  Since then, music is a great interest of mine.  It started in college, though.

An old English professor is a Facebook friend and she said she had attended a concert put on at my alma mater featuring the Camerata Singers and the Richmond Symphony.  Someone left a gift to the college which facilitated this collaboration.  When I attended Longwood, I was a member of Camerata Singers, which I had to audition to get into.  The reason I was a member was because I had a voice teacher who was determined that I would be.  I took her group voice class to satisfy a requirement for my degree and she convinced me to take private lessons.  So I did.  Then she got me to join "Cams".

This same teacher once gave me a ticket to see Cosi Fan Tutte in Richmond with a bunch of music majors.  After the opera was finished, we went to her apartment and hung out.  She showed us her yearbooks from Westminster Choir College, where she happened to study music with our choir director.  It was pretty funny to see pictures of him when he was a geeky music major.  And this teacher introduced me to Kathleen Battle's music, too, when she gave me a CD of some of her best Mozart renderings.

I remember my days as an English major at Longwood interspersed with concerts and recitals, both ones I got to see and ones I was a part of.  I came away from my college experience having been exposed to a lot of great music from many different genres.  I also came away a singer, though I only share that particular interest in certain places.  Unlike my dad, I'm not a huge fan of singing in choirs.  I prefer smaller ensembles… or maybe a band.  I get a huge thrill when I get to sing with a band.  It doesn't happen very often, though, mainly because I am a homebody.

Anyway, I got a kick out of my old English prof writing about seeing my old piano accompanist (turned music prof) at a concert featuring my old choir and the Richmond Symphony.  I appreciate those experiences now, probably more than I did as a college student.  It makes me proud that I went to Longwood University and happy that somehow I made the most of it there.

This kid is a piano prodigy who reminds me a little of a pint sized Richard Simmons.  I hope he maintains that joyful personality along with his passion for the piano… and is blessed with really good mentors.


  1. I'm glad you featured Ellen.

    Sometimes finding your niche in music is a fluke. i wonder how many people who might have been really talented musicians were never directed to the right instrument.

    You might have done better at piano if you had been allowed to play music you liked. Many prospective pianists are lost because whatever method books their teachers used didn't really suit them. My mom says piano is best taught by a method similar to the old "whole language" technique of teaching reading and writing. A good piano teacher can find the right songs that will focus upon the skills that are needed at a given point in a student's music education, and will also find time to work on music that the student wants to learn. That's how I was taught, and that's also how I instinctively taught my brother.

    1. You're probably right. I remember sitting at the piano (which I have since inherited) and picking out songs by ear. I never really learned to sightread until I went to college. Most of what I do is still pretty much by ear.

      As an adult, I'm sorry I didn't become more proficient. At the same time, singing has always come very easily for me, even when I was a little kid. I remember wondering why I could sing on key and other people couldn't. It was so easy for me. To this day, I don't know how you teach someone to sing. I mean, you can learn techniques to sound better and breathe properly so it's easier, but I think it's just one of those things you have to have an affinity for. I will never be a math whiz or a prize winning athlete, but music is something that seems to be in my blood.

      As for Ellen, I don't really watch her show. I probably should. She's funny and I like the way she handles her guests. She was very patient with Elias, who is quite the amazing talent. I think he's going to be a very cool person if he isn't beaten down by people who ridicule him for being "special". Ellen is good people.

  2. From what I've observed, the ability or inability to sing on key is pretty much a natural thing. It's probably a combination of nature and early nurture, and early exposure helps. A child who had frequent ear infections as an infant and very young child sometimes will lack the ability even when other family members have it, which indicates that for most, the skill is developed or not developed early in life.

    Singing is also a motor skill, and some people lack sufficient control of their voices to stay on pitch even if they're otherwise musical. (My mom said Burt Bacharach was one of such people.) Some multi-sensory methodology (Kodaly training with hand signs for tones of the scales comes to mind) can supposedly help pitch-challenged people, but the improvement is usually marginal.

    Then you have people who are on-key but can only sing either the melody or the highest part (at least one of the Lennon Sisters has this issue) while others nail any vocal line the first time through. This skill, too, can be built upon or improved, but in general people either have it or do not have it.

    1. Yeah… that's another thing. I have no trouble harmonizing at all, while other people who are decent singers struggle with it. I run into it a lot of SingSnap when people try to do duets. I find that very few can do harmonies correctly. Every once in awhile, I run into one who does it well and it makes me sit up and take notice! For instance, the song "How's The World Treating You" by Alison Krauss and James Taylor is a popular duet. But very few guys can do James's part, because it's harmony. They end up singing Alison's melody part. It's rare that I find a guy who does it even remotely right.

      My sisters tell me that when I was a small child, I would sing on key. My parents used to play the radio for me to help me sleep. I had colic and was generally fussy, so they have told me. Music was one way to chill me out.

  3. My mom and dad played and sang to me a lot to shut me up, too. I cried all the time when I was a baby.

  4. My mom's best friend taught kindergarten for a long time. She now teaches special ed. preschool, and sayshercurrent students have too many comorbid issues to make any generalizations about children's musical abilitiesas a whole relying on them as test subjects. When she taught kindergarten, though, she said that the class would start off the year with between two and five children being able to sing well, but by the end of the year, 80 to 90 per cent of the class would have the ability to sing on key. She's a musician and does a lot of music with her classes. Even though five would seem late by your standards or mine to begin singing on key, around five is either an age at which many children learn to sing on key, or it's an age at which, with really heavy immersion into music and singing, children's voices and ears can still be salvaged. I don't know which is the case; it's probably somewhere between the two possibilities.


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