Did you once-upon-a-time play a musical instrument? Maybe like me, you started in elementary school with group lessons and played for years in bands and orchestras before putting the instrument away.
It was predetermined that I would play the violin since my dad bought me one at the age of five months. Yes, he had always wanted to play. As a fourth grader, I started group lessons which lasted a month. Then it was onto private weekly lessons. I played reluctantly—from the age of nine until I got through high school. When I started college I dropped all music. Of course, I’m sorry now, but who can tell a teenager anything? Besides, beer and boys were more interesting than fiddles at that point.
I took up the violin again—after almost 40 years. Thinking back on it, I’m not sure why I quit playing altogether. I think it was because I wasn’t a “star” and didn’t like the kind of music I had to practice. Do you know anybody who can choose a teenager’s music?
When I played the violin, playing by ear was discouraged both by my teacher and Dad. I was to play classical music with the notes in front of me. That’s all well and good if that’s what a kid wants to do. However, I had a good ear and could play any tune I knew and wanted to do so.
When nobody was listening, I often played favorite tunes from the hit parade. Are you old enough to remember “Come On to my House” or “How Much is that Doggie in the Window?”
Classical music and opera wafted through our home all the while I was growing up, but I always loved other kinds of music. After marriage, I hauled my violin with me wherever we lived but never played it. Built about the time of World War I, it once belonged to Wayne King’s father.
OK, hold on as we go fast-forwarding. I grow up. Get married. Have kids. Retiring to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia after 32 years of accompanying my Foreign Service husband around the world, what do I do but dust off that old violin, get some new strings, order a bow and start playing again—decades after stopping. By ear! And, it’s now a fiddle!
I bumped into Murphy Henry in action a number of years ago on our historical walking street mall playing her fiddle with one of her banjo students. I was hooked. Immediately! I returned to lessons—this time by ear and for fun—with Murphy and bluegrass.
Of course, this music was new to me, and it’s not as easy as picking up the fiddle and playing “Tennessee Waltz” which I remembered from my childhood. I had to listen closely and try to remember from one jam to the next which key we’re in and which note to start on. Then I was ready to roll.
Being allowed to skip that middle step of reading notes from a page was now legal. Learning to play a tune and immediately producing the sounds through my hands without music was nothing short of liberating. I went from reading music to just playing it.
Remember Arthur Murray, the ballroom dancing teacher, exclaiming “Get back into life. Try dancing!” I’d say the same goes for playing an instrument—get going. If you’ve always wanted to play, now is the time. You’ll be so glad you did, and you’ll wonder how you were ever happy before without the music. I’m partial to the fiddle, of course, but I imagine the same goes for other instruments. Find a tolerant friend to make music with.
In addition to playing bluegrass, I joined groups playing renaissance music and traditional dance music with a couple of Celtic groups. My recipe for getting back into life is to start making music! And, I promise you’ll live happily ever after. Now, I play weekly with a friend. We share our music with the world by practicing on our front porch. Not always, but sometimes, people stop to listen (and then move on!)
So I can boast of playing two instruments badly, I’ve taken up the mountain dulcimer which involves another steep learning curve. (I’m working at warding off dementia).
If you begin playing an instrument right now, you’ll miss the rest of presidential campaign. Is that incentive enough?
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