Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sweet Music

I did something today that I really should do, at the very least, once or even twice a week. Truth be told, I should try to find a way to work this into my daily routine, but that ain't never gonna happen. And no, it wasn't exercise -not in the true physical sense -but it was exercise in another way.

I played my organ -the beautiful Hammond organ I received that had been my beloved Aunt Mike's.

This IS exercise -of the fingers anyway. And oh brother, do my fingers ever need that kind of exercise. And do I ever need to start from Book 1 of the Thompson Learner series books for piano and try to teach myself -maybe correctly -this time, how to play the organ or piano.

As a child, I took piano lessons for roughly about 1 1/2 or maybe 2 year, total. I had three different teachers for those lessons too. My first was Miss Grace Dom -an elderly spinster who lived in Philipsburg. She was tough and I do mean TOUGH! A stickler to time and how I hated that damned metronome sitting there, tick, tick, ticking away as I tried to manuever my little fingers over the keyboard. Scales, scales, other finger exercises, out the old yazoo, were the main staple of Miss Dom's teaching procedures. And I hated those damned things! And, as a child, if I didn't like something, I would go to all lengths to avoid doing it so, as a result, my learning process there was very, very slow. She was also very particular -a stickler for this too -about posture. You had to sit just so -fanny on the piano bench firmly planted. Back, straight, very straight -no slouching AT ALL allowed. She would place her had near the small of your back and determine from holding it there while you did your scales and other finger exercises if you were maintaining the proper seating position and the ramrod stiff (or so it seemed) posture she said was necessary for one to become a good pianist. Suffice it to say, that was the first technique I failed to master -ever! To this day, my posture is crappy as all get out -whether it is how I sit while typing, in the chair while just relaxing or, trying to position myself in front of the organ to do a little "practicing" -I'm a definite curler-upper and sloucher, from way, way back!

I think I was about eight years old when I started taking piano lessons. The good thing is that I did learn from that to at least be able to read music. But, because I was so lazy, disliked the necessary stuff so much along with Miss Dom's methods of teaching -rapping students knuckles was also part of her techniques too -I whined and complained enough to my Mom, apparently, that she found another piano instructor.

So, after a while away from taking piano lessons, Mom started me with Mrs. Hayes, a very sweet lady but one that Mom wasn't too keen on because she felt she was rather lax about pushing the time stuff. Did I mention earlier that I never have mastered the "timing" thing? Well, I haven't and probably, at this stage in my life, never will either.

When I was in fourth grade, we got a new music teacher in our school system -George Myers. The first thing this man did was to test each and every student in the elementary schools in our township to see how well any of us scored and if from these tests, it looked like a student had he least bit of aptitude for music, he then tried to get every kid he could hooked up learning to play some kind of instrument. Because I had already had a little music istruction, I scored much higher on those tests than did many of my classmates and he decided to try to get me to learn to play the violin.

Initially, I liked the idea of learning to play the violin and my aunt -good old Aunt Mike (who, incidentally, taught music in the neighboring school district) located a violin in the attic of my Dad's family homestead and presented it to me to use while learning to play this instrument. It didn't take long before the hatred I had for practicing -anything -stepped in and took over so, of course, my abilities with respect to learning the violin were fairly limited then.

Let me tell you this too though -there is, in my opinion, absolutely NOTHING worse to endure though than the early scratchy, squeaky, really annoying sounds that come forth from such a beautiful instrument when in the hands of one who is just beginning to learn ow to pull that bow over the strings in a meager -very meager -effort to make music. It really hurts the ears, and I do mean REALLY hurts too! Thankfully, my poor Grandfather's hearing was failing a good bit as no matter what I tried to play, he always commented on what a beautiful job I had just done with whatever it was I was slaughtering on that violin at the time. He wasn't tone deaf -had always had a beautiful bass singing voice -but his hearing by the time I was taking those lessons had dimiished enough that apparently the squeaking and screeching noises didn't bother him. The violin lessons lasted for roughly about three years. The violin went back to my Aunt's house (apparently she must have either thrown it out or loaned it to another family member to us because a few years back, my aunt said she couldn't find it and had no idea what ever had happened to that violin.)

In sixth grade, in addition to taking violin lessons, our music teacher at school, decided I should learn to play the French Horn too. I was agreeable to that idea because the lessons for that instrument meant I would be "in instruction classes" with a boy in my class that I had a major crush on and who was taking trumpet lesson. Hey, trumpet, French Horn, --they used the same principles to get the sound to materialize -same fingering, same pursing of the lips and all that kind of stuff. That, plus I would go to all lenghts to be in an exclusive class with my heart throb, Den Humenay.

In seventh grade, Mr. Myers, the music teacher, decided I knew the French Horn well enough that I was then eligible to begin playing with the marching band too. Wow! That man had delusional thinking for sure! I could barely play that horn, for openers, much less try to read music, play, all while "marching" in a specific pattern and yes, that other old nemisis of mine -that "timing" thing and put all that together and I was a disaster, tripping over my two left feet at every other step as we practiced on the football field.

Of course, as is probably typical of most any 12-year-old involved in learning something that requires practice, which of course, means work and we all know "Work" to a kid that age is most definitely the dirtiest word of all, I decided the Frenc Horn was most certainly not the instrument I was cut out to play. And you know too that I decided that AFTER my Mom had spent the extra bucks, which she didn't have to start with, really, on purchasing me a nice pair of those white buck shoes you had to have to wear while playing in the band. Needless to say, I was happy but she -not so much. Ok, she was downright pissed off at me for giving up on that instrument and it was at least a year before she quit harping at me at how she had scrounged to get the money to buy me those ugly white bucks, which I wore maybe 4 or 5 times probably -tops -then quit the band and refused to wear those "perfectly good shoes there" with any other outfits.

Ok, so this sounds like maybe I had a lengthy instruction period then for music, doesn't it? Well, had I kept taking piano lessons regularly, that would be true. However, I was very sporadic in my piano instruction., The lessons with Miss Dom lasted somewhere betwee six to nine months I think, then a break, then the lessons with Mrs. Hayes which were supposed to take place once a week, but I think I skipped out on enough of those lessons that from 4th to 7th grade, I had maybe six months of lessons then at the most.

But Mom decided she wasn't going to give up on my learning to play the piano and she found another instructor, who -judging by our neighbor's daughter -appeared to be a very good teacher. And so, Mom signed me on to take lessons from Miss Grace Moore, in Philipsburg. Now, I did do a little better under Miss Moore's tutelage -mainly I suppose because I actually liked this lady who was sweet, demure -strict but not the type that whacked my knuckles with that damned baton like Miss Dom did and though she also stressed the importance of timing, with me, I think she just decided it was pretty much a lost cause.

And so, all totaled, I figure over the years I managed to accrue maybe two years -possibly a tad over that but not by much -of piano instruction.

And then, in high school, I decided I wanted, more than anything else, to be organist at our church. Oh, what lofty goals a teenager can have, ya know! The elderly man who was organist for a year was terrible, with respect to his playing ability on the piano or the organ and I fancied myself to be sooooo much more accomplished but in reality, the only way I was better was that I had had those roughly two years of instruction as compared to his six months of lessons.

But, I got my wish and became church organist for a year -as well as "choir director" too. What a heady experience that was! Note, I didn't say it was an enjoyable experience for the parishioners who, Sunday after Sunday endured listening to me hitting sour notes, several times, in each and every piece I played! It's a wonder they even allow me to belong to that church to this day for the sheer torture I put those people through back then. Actually, it's probably a wonder that most of the congregation didn't stop coming to church completely while I was the esteemed organist and choir director for that year.

But today, as I do from time to time now, I decided to try practicing my finger exercies a little, tried to play some of the pieces in the church hymnal I have here as well. Still have the propensity to hit more sour notes than good ones too though.

But, while I was messing with this music thing, Mandy and I were talking then about music -church music mainly -and as I was trying to struggle through playing "How Great Thou Art" Mandy remarked that that song reminded her of being at a funeral. No, she wasn't referring to my crappy playing there but rather to the piece itself which anytime she hears it, bring a memory of going to funerals to her mind.

Which got us started then talking about other things pertaining to music and stuff. That's when she told me that this morning, before I got up, Maya had been leafing through my hymnal and "reading" -or so she thought she was -the names of the hymns in the book. What floored Mandy was when Maya showed her a page in the book and asked her if maybe Grammy could play this song -"Amazing Grace" and yes, that was the name of the song she was pointing too. What is amazing to us is seeing that Maya is learning to read -and a lot of her learning is from her own doing too!

From that, we begain talking again then about songs we like and memories they stir up in us when we hear them. Mandy's favorite song -also one I especially like too -is "On Our Way Rejoicing" and she says everytime she hears it, or we sing it in church, her thoughts immediately go to "Aunt Helen" -a spinster cousin of my Mom's who, along with her two spinster sisters, lived about six doors down from us when my kids were growing up. So Mandy was very close to this particular cousin and somehow, she connected that song with Aunt Helen in her mind, her memories.

For me, the song that brings many thoughts to my mind is "Built Like A Rock" as I can remember as clear as a bell then, the first time I ever heard that song and how much I loved the minor chords in it. It was at a church young people's conference, called Luther League back in those early (i.e. "olden") days of my life at Salem Lutheran Church in Williamsport, PA and their organist -one Wilbur Forse -(a really powerful organist) played that song for all of us teenagers to sing and I loved it!

Now, my musical memories don't all involve church or church music -although that is a large part of music that brings things to my mind. But whenever I hear Sam the Sham and the Pharohs doing their hit number "Little Red Riding Hood" I think back to the spring and summer of 1966 and my older daughter's father who always liked to try to sing that song. "Funky Town" takes me back to 1980 when I was waitressing at the Truckstop near my home and how, if that song came on the radio especially if we were really busy, it gave e a beat, rhythm to move by and race around the dining room floor with that song pushing me along. Over the years, especially while waitressing, many popular songs would serve a purpose like that for me -motivation to move, ya know.

Those are the "memory" songs that come to mind immediately for me but there are lots of others -way too numerous to list but when I hear them, they take me back in time, to another place, to events in my life that the music played a a large part in it for me.

What songs bring memories to your mind? And why?

Meanwhile, I'll try to practice moving my fingers across the organ's keyboard to see if I can limber them up a bit, maybe -who knows -I'll be able to play a couple of Christmas Carols when the family is here Christmas Eve. Without them running out the door for peace and quiet, that is. (Or the neighbors fearing someone is dying here if they happen to catch a bit of my music, wafting through the air! Which in my case would NOT be "taming the savage beast" for sure. )

Peace -for today, anyway.


Sweetie said...

What a nice post. Songs provide such wonderful memories. I can hear a song that was popular "back in the day" and go back in time. I am re-teaching myself to play the piano. I did buy some Thompson books at an auction. Please stop over to visit. I have something for you.

Anonymous said...

My song is "Stardust". When I was a little girl my mother had this little black ornamental jewelry box that you had to wind up and it would play "Stardust".

As the years go by, like you too, different times mean different songs: "We Got The Beat" by the Go-Go's, "Night Fever" by the Bee Gees, "Rapper's Delight" by the Sugarhill Gang and most anything by Keith Pringle or James Cleveland.

Debo Blue

Keith said...

What wonderful memories Jeni. My wife Patty went to Catholic School in Schuylkill County PA and she told me about those nuns and the knuckle smaking they would do with the rulers. Ouch!

I don't think you'd want to hear my music memories as I think I favor the hard and heavy sound. But a very mellow song by Pink Floyd titled Comfortably Numb comes to mind. We used to get high and just listen to it over and over again.


Travis said...

How wonderful to take it up again. Have fun!

Louise said...

What a terrific post! Except for the rapping of the knuckles and the damned metronome, but piano lessons could be similar to yours. But I started in 7th grade (too poor to have a piano before then) and had taught myself too many bad things before then.

I was laughing a lot through this. And smiling when I wasn't laughing.

Songs bring back ALL kinds of memories. Most of mine are from high school and college because I haven't listened to pop radio much since then. But I can remember distinctly walking down the steps in the girls dorm my junior or senior year of high school on a snowy day when I for some reason heard Foreigner singing "I've Been Waiting For a Girl Like You." Radios were not allowed in the dorm then, so I've no idea why I could hear it loudly.

Tee aka The Diva's Thoughts said...

I wish I had taken music lessons growing up. Maybe I would have an affinity for playing an instrument now if I had.

terri said...

I think you're MILES ahead of me. I took piano lessons for four years and hated every minute. Of course now I wish I could play, but I just never enjoyed it.