Most of my students have asked me at one time or another, “when did you start playing [insert instrument]?” Well, here’s the long answer.
Like many of the composers I lecture about in my music appreciation classes, I was “born into a musical family.” My mother is a musician (a flutist/piccolist with a music ed degree). It wasn’t really a question of “are you going to play an instrument?” growing up. It was more “what instrument are you going to play and when are you going to start playing it?” I was actually shocked in school to find out that not everyone played music. I thought it was a given like eating and sleeping. (Not sure how I came to that conclusion since my dad doesn’t play an instrument, but you know – 5 year old logic.)
At 5 I started rather informal piano lessons with my mother, on the piano that is now sitting directly behind me right now in my studio at Notable Beginnings. I got through a blue or green Bastien piano book before she threw in the towel. To this day I distincly remember “Indian Dance” and wonder if they’ve renamed it to be more socially conscious since 1984.
After my stint on piano, my mother decided to try me out on flute. She even got me the curved headjoint. As you can probably surmise since I’m a cellist, that didn’t last too long. I have a bit more of a stronger personality than my mom and we didn’t mesh well as teacher/student.
So, the next step was to have me decide what I wanted to play. Mom took me “in the pit” with her for a summer musical rehearsal. My job was to look around and pick which instrument I wanted to play. I chose the violin, and thus, my bowed string career began.
Mom got me violin lessons – I was 7 years old, in a class of maybe three other 5 year old beginners. And I loved it. And I feel I was pretty good at it. 🙂 You’ll have to ask Mom about my practice habits back then, but I don’t have any bad memories about them. My teacher, I believe, was a lady named Miss Maria.
My school program started in 5th grade. By that time I’d already been playing for 3 years, give or take. I played with the 6th grade orchestra that year. Problem occured the next year, when I was in 6th grade, I had to repeat it since I couldn’t go the the junior high for orchestra. So, I decided to try out the cello instead of playing violin again. And that, as they say, is history.
After a year of cello in school and switching to cello lessons, my mom had me (and probably my little brother – I don’t remember) go to the local youth orchestra concert (Kansas City Youth Symphony). It was amazing. I couldn’t believe that those were all kids playing!! I tried out for the program, but was initially rejected – I just wasn’t at that level yet. But alas, they ended up starting a lower level string orchestra that year (for my 7th grade year) and I was invited to join it. Playing in a (good) orchestra was the beginning of my first, and longest running, love affair and introduced me to my soul mates Tchaikovsky and Brahms. (I’ll write about my youth symphony experiences another time – they deserve a separate post explaing WHY you NEED to join your local youth orchestra.)
Moving through to high school, I was once again bitten by the “I want to learn a new instrument bug” my junior year. I asked for a viola for Christmas that year. (Who does that? What other 17 year old wants a viola for Christmas??) Over the years I’ve also done time on tenor sax (to play in concert band in college), oboe (I needed another credit hour to keep my scholarships my last semester of undergrad, so I took oboe lessons), guitar (on and off and for a musical in 2005), and I own a mandolin and am really good at playing the Vivaldi a minor concerto on it, as well as anything from suzuki violin books 1-4. I’ve also sung in many choirs, church choirs, etc. but have never done voice lessons. I’m positive that I’m one of those annoying church altos who belts out random harmony parts (and is super-bitter that the hymnals disappeared).
I know I’m biased, but I really think that the arts (not just music) are critical to having a well-rounded education. Especially for someone like me who isn’t a STEM person. How horrible it would have been for me to go through school from ages 5-18 having to focus on subjects I really didn’t like and wasn’t that great at. But that’s another topic…..
And I have just begun this journey again, but as the parent of a 5 (almost 6) year old piano student…